On a recent trip to Trujillo, Peru; I had the opportunity to visit the ancient city of Chan Chan, the capital city of the Chimu Civilization. Taking the taxi into Trujillo from the airport the road passes through what looks to be about the center of this vast city made of mud bricks. Two things immediately strike you, one is the immense size of the place and the other is the vast destruction done by looters, earthquakes and the weather. UNESCO has declared this a world heritage site and work is being done to preserve as much as possible but as we all know there is only so much money to go around to all the sites in the world that need help. I had heard from friends and read that this site was a must visit for anyone coming to Peru and they were certainly correct.
Taking one of the tours offered by operators located in the center of Trujillo, our destination inside Chan Chan was the Tschudi Complex or “The Palace.” Once inside the complex we were taken through a maze of corridors that opened onto huge plazas (audiencias), storage rooms and residential areas for the Noble Family who occupied this compound. The compound was huge, easily able to hold seven football fields with room left over. There are intricate carvings on the walls and a small lake (called a well) inside the complex fed by the water table. This small lake reminded me of the one in the Temple at Luxor in Egypt. It was there for religious and purification purposes and sacrifices (not the human kind) were also tossed into the lake. Some of the carvings on the walls inside the compound represent “La Nina” and “El Nino”, the two major forces of the Pacific that affect the weather here and obviously their lives. Other carvings represent fertility and some are of the god figures. At the center of the compound was the burial site of the Head of this Noble family. It is thought that he served as one of the Kings before his death and afterwards another King was appointed to replace him. He was buried much as the Egyptians were, with all the goods thought necessary in the afterlife, which included the sacrifice of young women to please the Gods and secure their favor in his afterlife. Priest types who perpetuated the God image of the King after his death then maintained the palace and grounds as a mausoleum.
All of the areas in this compound that contained original intricate carvings and decorative brick work were protected by awnings placed over steel structures. Those walls that had not been reconstructed were capped with a concrete like material to prevent further erosion from the rains. The archaeologists and their teams are doing the best they can with the limited resources at their disposal. For now, only these major structures seem to have any protection at all, so much more needs done.
The tour of just this one palace took almost two hours so you can imagine the size of the place. There are eleven of these compounds inside the city’s walls. The city covers an area of 7.7 square miles and the walls surrounding it were 26 feet high. Archaeologists estimate that over 50,000 people lived in Chan Chan at the height of the Chimu Civilization. It is the largest city made of mud bricks in the world. It is also thought that over 25% of the population was artisans who worked with raw materials brought into the city from all over the coast. They crafted these into beautiful objects and then sent back into those regions for trade.
I believe the greatest threat to this magnificent archaeological site now is the changing weather patterns in Peru. Scientists believe that due to global warming, the “El Nino’s” are getting worse and the amount of rainfall to this area has increased significantly. There is nothing in place to protect a major portion of the city form these rains. As we know, rain will only turn the bricks made of dried mud back into mud, which then washes off the walls of the houses, barrios and great palaces located inside the city walls. It is heartbreaking to see this beautiful place disappearing before your eyes. Melting back into the desert from which it sprung.
If you haven’t made the trip to the North of Lima to visit this superb archaeological site you should do so soon. I make this comment more for persons who are planning to visit Peru than those already here. Do not misunderstand, all should go as soon as they can before weather and other destructive elements reduce this site to a mere shadow of what it is now. If you can, make a donation to help UNESCO and Peru to preserve this and other important archaeological sites throughout the country.
If you would like to make a donation, you can:
Make a bank transfer (in U.S. dollars) to:
UNESCO Account No. 949-1-191558
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