LIMA: Peru’s poor Zavaleta family has only one thing to say to the thousands of tourists who trek along the Inca trail to the renowned citadel Machu Picchu every year: “Hey you, get off our land!”
The family says it is the lawful owner of a large part of the Machu Picchu sanctuary, Peru’s most famous national treasure, and will start proceedings next week to sue the state for recognition of its ownership rights.
“The Zavaletas bought the land in 1944 and have title deeds that date from 1898,” their lawyer Fausto Salinas said yesterday. “But I have checked and the site has been private property since 1657,” he said, adding he had proof in the form of parchment documents wrapped in goatskin.
American explorer Hiram Bingham discovered Machu Picchu in Peru’s southern Andes under thick forest in 1911. The pre-Columbian ruins of an entire city are perched on a mountain saddle 2,560 metres above sea level near the modern city of Cuzco.
It was probably the sanctuary of Inca emperor Pachacutec and lay at the heart of the Inca empire, which at the start of the 15th century stretched from Colombia to northern Argentina.
Machu Picchu has become South America’s best-known archaeological site and attracts almost half a million tourists every year.
The Zavaletas plan to sell the land if their title is recognized. “There is a lot of foreign interest,” Julio Zavaleta said.
Peru’s National Culture Institute, which runs and maintains Machu Picchu, declined to comment.