Stone & Air - Ancient Peru

Trujillo and the North Coast

There are literally thousands of archeological sites near the town of Trujillo. The best known are the sites built by the Chimu and the Moche cultures. But many other peoples have prospered then disappeared in the area, and much like the drylands of western Asia, this area feels ancient — old, dry, bony.

The Moche culture arose early in the common era. Their most visited site is the sibling Huaca de la Sol and the Huaca la Luna — the temples of the sun and of the moon. A massive 342 meters long and 45 meters high, the Huaca de la Sol is the largest pre-Columbian structure in South America. It was built of adobe bricks inscribed with symbols believed to be the "signatures" of either individual workers or teams of workers. The nearby Huaca de la Luna is in some ways more interesting. Though smaller, the structure is riddled with rooms and many ceremonial objects have been found either inside the temple or close to it.

Chan Chan is the huge ruined capital of the Chimu empire and the largest mud city in the world. It was built in 1300 AD and by the time of the Spanish conquest it housed 50,000 people and covered 28 square km. Chan Chan was a very rich town, and displayed incredible gold, silver and ceramics. Most of Chan Chan is very run-down, the victim of 500 years of wind and infrequent but torrential rainstorms. The place to visit in the ruined city is the Tschudi Complex, which has been partially restored. Here you'll see some of the walls at their original 10 meter high, adorned with ancient and modern restored friezes.

But it's the sanctuaries that really speak to the life of the Chimu. The sanctuaries are part of a labyrinth of courtyards laid out much like a fishing net. They are richly decorated with friezes depicting the sea, the moon, and ocean life interlaced by fishing nets. The Chimu were a down-to-earth people who earned their livelihood from the ocean. The sea, and the cycles of the moon and the tide — and fishing nets — were central to their economic life, and therefore their spiritual life as well. Visit Chan Chan, then visit a nearby beach, and the two experiences will resonate with each other.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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