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More than 5,000 archeologists and other academics in Peru have signed a petition protesting the construction of an airport near the ancient Inca citadel, Machu Picchu.

The proposed location of the new airport is in the town of Chinchero: a small village halfway between Cuzco and Machu Picchu and considered to be the gateway to the Sacred Valley that leads to the UNESCO World Heritage site. According to Lonely Planet, construction on the airport was originally slated to begin in 2013, but after many delays, finally broke ground in January.

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Currently, most tourists who visit Machu Picchu fly into Cuzco’s Alejandro Velasco Astete Airport (CUZ), which is about 46 miles from the archeological site and handles mostly regional flights from within Peru or neighboring countries. Visitors must then take a train or bus to the ancient ruins. The new airport, The Guardian reported, would allow tourists to fly directly to the Machu Picchu area from major cities in the US and around Latin America.

In the petition, archeologists are warning that the influx of tourists from the new airport could ruin Machu Picchu and cause, “irreparable damage to the culture of Peru and humanity.”

“This is a built landscape; there are terraces and routes which were designed by the Incas,” Natalia Majluf, a Peruvian art historian at Cambridge University who began the petition, told The Guardian. “Putting an airport here would destroy it.”

Dr. Gabriela Ramos, a senior lecturer also at Cambridge, told Lonely Planet that there could be a “total collapse of the site” if the airport project proceeds. “The Sacred Valley is also one of the most beautiful and environmentally-rich sites in the southern Andes,” she said. “The airport will destroy the whole Sacred Valley of the Incas by bringing a number of tourists the area cannot sustain.”

In recent years, Machu Picchu has been battered by overtourism. More than 1.5 million people visited the ruins in 2017. The hoards of visitors forced officials to enact strict entry policies that require tourists to buy timed entry tickets that are only valid for one hour.

“I don’t think there’s any significant archeologist or historian working in the Cusco area that hasn’t signed the petition,” Majluf told The Guardian.

Featured photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy.

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