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Machu Picchu, then and now. (Photograph by Jonathan Irish)

Then + Now: Machu Picchu

Hiram Bingham first set eyes on Machu Picchu in 1911. Though he did not discover the striking citadel in the clouds (locals, many of whom served as Bingham’s guides, had known its whereabouts for centuries), he intended to reveal it to the world.

That chance came when the National Geographic Society joined Yale University in funding a return expedition to the site. National Geographic Magazine dedicated the entirety of its April 1913 issue to showcasing the Inca’s “wonderful city of refuge on the mountain top,” as then editor Gilbert H. Grosvenor would write. This April marks the 100th anniversary of that issue.

So when I found out I would be traveling to Machu Picchu, I pored over the photographs Bingham had taken over the course of his expeditions, imagining what it would have been like to see the now-famous archaeological site through his eyes. I brought copies of the photos along with me and spent hours comparing them with what I was seeing in an attempt to pinpoint where he had been standing when he took some of his iconic shots.

I was amazed at how much had changed — and how much had stayed the same — since the ancient Inca city had been (re)discovered, excavated, and brought to the world’s attention.

Here’s Machu Picchu, through Hiram Bingham’s eyes, and mine:


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“So far as I know, there is no part of the Andes that has been better defended by nature.” – Hiram Bingham. (Photograph by Hiram Bingham)


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The ancient site today. Notice how the walls have been further excavated and repaired. (Photograph by Jonathan Irish)


Jonathan Irish is a program director at National Geographic Adventures and a professional photographer. Follow his story on Twitter @MagnumJI and on his website,