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The BBC's James Reynolds in Santiago
"It's a symbol of intense pride"
 real 56k

Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 07:45 GMT
Machu Picchu 'in danger of collapse'
Machu Picchu, Peru BBC
The former Inca fortress is a world heritage site
Geologists have warned that the ancient Inca fortress of Machu Picchu in Peru is in danger of being destroyed by a landslide.

The warning comes from Japanese geologists studying land movement in the area.

Machu Picchu was used by the Incas as a refuge from the Spanish empire in the 16th Century.

It was rediscovered by explorers in 1911 and declared a Unesco world heritage site in 1983.

It is perhaps the most important place in Peru, the country's main tourist attraction and a symbol of intense national pride.

Danger of collapse

Now, geologists from the Disaster Prevention Research Institute at Kyoto University have warned that the site may be in danger of collapsing.

Map of Peru BBC
The geologists have measured movement on the steep back slope of the fortress.

They have found that the land is sliding down at a rate of about one centimetre (0.4 inches) a month. Scientists say this is quite fast and is a precursor to a major landslide.

But they say they cannot predict when this might happen and will try to determine that during the next stage of their research.

Claim denied

However, a Peruvian preservation official has firmly denied that landslides pose an immediate threat.

The Director of the National Institute of Culture in Cuzco, Javier Lambarri, said the ruins are monitored for seismic activity 24 hours a day. "As of now, we have no report that there is an imminent danger," he said.

However, Mr Lambarri did admit that there was a geological fault line in the region that could cause difficulties.

"We know that there is a fault line that crosses the entire city and that could cause a problem," he said.

Preservation debate

Already, a debate exists over how best to preserve Machu Picchu for future generations.

Last year, the authorities decided to limit the number of visitors to the site because of fears of erosion. But the measure has not satisfied conservationists.

They have warned that more needs to be done and they have campaigned against plans to build a cable car up to the fortress.

One Peruvian presidential candidate has promised that if he wins next month's election, he will stage his inauguration at Machu Picchu.

Now, perhaps, his plans may have to be revised.

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See also:

15 Sep 00 | Americas
Machu Picchu blockade
13 Sep 00 | Americas
Fury at sacred site damage
11 May 00 | Americas
Inca Trail restricted
01 Jan 00 | Americas
Ancient Inca celebrations in Peru
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