The party of Wari elders approached the gate to the great city of Pachacamac with great reverence and more than a touch of fear. This was their first trip to the great city and the magnificent Temple of the Sun since the mighty Inca conquered the world. As they passed over the hills approaching the city a great structure stood above the walls in blazing red, a massive temple to the great Sun God “Inti”, built by the ruling Inca Emporer, Tupac Yupanqui. They were here to seek guidance from the Great Oracle in the Painted Temple on important matters to their people. Their llamas were loaded with corn, cloth, and other offerings to “He Who Animates the World”. They would be here for days, possibly weeks making the offerings and seeking the answers to their questions. Entering the eastern gate, they paraded down the broad avenue along with the other supplicants from all over the empire. The sweet smell of putrefying flesh from the sacrifices floated through the air and the sounds of the people bartering in the stalls along the street assailed their ears. Carrion birds circled overhead and …….
I had structured this fantasy when I entered the monumental ruins of Pachacamac on the southern outskirts of modern day Lima. I know how awed I was entering the site in its ruined state so I can only imagine what the peoples of the era must have thought and felt as they entered this enormous religious center dedicated to Pachacamac, “He Who Animates the World.” Despite several centuries of archaeological work, little is known about this complex and the daily activities that went on here. They do know that it served as a religious site as well as a place where any who could afford the continuous sacrifices could be buried. But they conjecture that it was so much more. Only time will tell what they will eventually discover about this place.
Entering the archaeological park you are immediately struck by the vastness of the place, it spreads out in all directions almost as far as the eye can see. Then you find out that this is only a small remnant of the religious complex; that much of it has been built over by peoples coming down from the highlands looking for a better life. Just inside the entrance is the onsite museum and gift shop with a small restaurant that sells snacks. The museum is worth the short amount of time it takes to walk through it for those who choose to visit the site on their own. There are samples of ceramics, cloth, tools and a replica of the Idol representing Pachacamac in the museum. There is also a small snack shop and bookstore for those interested. Besides arranging for a tour of this site with any of many tour companies located in Lima, you can also arrange for a tour with one of the onsite guides as you enter the archaeological park. You can also tour the site on your own as they provide you with a map on entry. It is possible to walk the site but be prepared for it to take several hours to complete the entire route. You are allowed to drive through the park and stop at points that interest you if you choose. The cost to enter and tour on your own is 5.50 Soles and the cost for a guide is 20 Soles but you might have to wait for one to finish another tour.
This site was in use as a religious center for over 1500 years before the Spanish arrived and was used by many cultures as they came to prominence in the history of this area. The site contains more than 50 architectural structures ranging from temples, administrative buildings, and storage areas to palaces. The major structures that have been investigated are Temple with Ramp 1, Temple with ramp 2, Temple with Ramp 3, the Palacio de Tauri Chumpi, the Temple Viejo (Old), and the Painted Temple, Temple of the Sun, the Plaza de Los Peregrinos and the Mamacona/Acllawasi. In addition, there is a burial area around the Painted Temple that has received a lot of attention from archaeological teams. The site was known for its oracular powers in telling the future and was sought out by all the leaders of the various cultures who were in control of this site over time.
Entering the site, the first buildings that you come to are the three so called Ramp Temples. It is thought that these served either as administrative centers or as palaces. These three buildings were built during the Yschma Cultures involvement in the area. There are seventeen of these type structures inside the temple complex of Pachacamac. At the first of the ramped temples, you can see the East/West road that ran through the complex. There is excavation work on the road occurring now and it is possible to see all the way to the eastern gate. Next is the Palacio de Tauri Chumpi built in the time of the Inca. A curaca (an elected official who redistributed goods and resources to the region) named Tauri Chumpi lived here. They think that Pissarro’s brother stayed here when he came to Pachacamac to collect ransom for the Emperor Atahualpa. From here, you have a stunning panoramic view of the Lurin Valley and River.
Leaving the Palace you pass many structures that have yet to be named or investigated until you come to a spot that contains what is called the “Old Temple” built around 200 AD, during the Lima Culture. Some argue that this temple contained the Oracle until it was moved to the Painted Temple built by the Wari Culture after rains damaged the Old Temple. Others argue that the Painted Temple always contained the Oracle and was also built around 200 AD. Both times that I have visited this site, there were archaeologists working on this temple. It is in the Painted Temple that the Idol representing the God Pachacamac was found. At the foot of the Painted Temple is the Cementario Max Uhle, a burial site for the wealthy and important people of the times. Max Uhle discovered many artifacts here during his excavations of the area. This is where you get your first good view of the Temple of the Sun, built by the Inca.
A short drive up a hill brings you to the entrance to this massive temple where sacrifices were made to Inti the Sun God by the Incan priesthood. The temple was built on a promontory that makes it the tallest building in the complex. Red plaster remains on some of the outer walls to give you an idea of how this temple might have looked to worshipers as they approached it. The views from the platform at the top of the temple are spectacular. Views of the islands off the coast as well as the entire layout of the complex will give you an idea of the largeness of this archaeological marvel. Driving down from the Temple of the Sun you will pass through the Plaza de Los Peregrinos. Archaeologists postulate that this Plaza was the gathering point for pilgrims who had come to the god Pachacamac for guidance or to give offerings to Inti.
Just past the Plaza and the last stop on the tour is the Mamacona/Acllawasi, or the House of the Sun Virgins. This particular site has been rebuilt to resemble as closely as possible to the way it must have looked in the time of the Inca. This building accommodated the Virgins who were dedicated to the Sun God Inti. These girls were selected from the various tribes for their beauty and skills from the ages of 8 to 10. As with all the other sites in the complex except for the Temple of the Sun, you are not allowed to walk into this building but must view it from a distance. There is still a lot of work to be done at this site and they do not want people trampling over these amazing structures and possibly destroying valuable information in the process.
Pachacamac is another of the many truly astounding archaeological sites to be visited in this rich and diverse country. If you are coming to Peru for a visit to Machu Picchu, if possible plan to stay as long as you can and try to see the many wonders that this country has to offer. You will not be disappointed and I guarantee you will leave with a sense of wonder and amazement at the levels these ancient civilizations reached so long ago.