The so-called Temple of the Moon is a cave complex located on the back side of Mount Huayna Picchu (or Wayna Picchu). Some of the cave walls are embedded with finely carved rocks that follow the contour of the mountain. There are side doors and the famous niches or trapezoidal windows for which Inca architecture is known. Its vaulted ceiling shows the high architectural level attained by this culture.
Although no one knows for sure what its purpose was, it was evidently a special and sacred place of worship or, more likely, a place for funerals. Despite the implication of its name, scholars say that its construction had nothing to do with the moon.
The first thing one notices upon entering this cave is a large rock carved in the shape of an altar or seat that many believe once served as a place for making religious sacrifices. In addition to this structure, there are other rock carvings on the walls and floor.
“Temple of the Moon” or “The Great Cavern” – Origin of the name
According to many scholars and archaeologists, the name “Temple of the Moon” has no real meaning. They believe that the temple has nothing to do with the moon, since the cave faces west and only a small amount of light enters it.
According to Fernando Astete, the manager of the Machu Picchu Archaeological Park, the temple was given its current name by the discoverer of Machu Picchu, researcher Hiram Bingham, who arrived there in 1911. Others say that a local hotel owner gave it its name in order to attract more tourists.
Given the differences of opinion and lack of proof that its correct name is “Temple of the Moon”, experts have begun calling it simply “The Great Cavern”.
How to get to the Temple of the Moon
There are two ways to get to the Temple of the Moon. The first requires more effort, but is worth the trouble due to the spectacular landscape. You can climb to the top of Mount Huayna Picchu and on your way down the other side, you will see a sign indicating the way to Machu Picchu in one direction and to “The Great Cavern” in the other.
The other way to get to the Temple of the Moon is to take the detour to the left at the base of the mountain (Huayna Picchu). Here you will find stairs carved in rock, with retention walls similar to terraces hugging the trail along the edge of the drop-off overlooking the jungle.