Our second sacred place is Huaca Puruchuco located in the district of Ate – Vitar. Puruchuco is a Quechua word meaning something similar to “feathered hat” or “feathered helmet.” The Huaca Puruchuco consists of two distinct parts. The first and most obvious part is the restored “Palace.” There is some discrepancy in the literature about this palace. Some think the palace was entirely Incan, while others think it was first used by an Ichma Chief and subsequently taken over by the Inca Curaca. Secondly, a vast cemetery used for the burial of the Inca and their elite is also located at this site. A nice museum is sits at the entrance to the site and contains many objects discovered during excavation and restoration of the palace and cemetery.
Excavation and restoration of the Palace began in the 1950’s under the direction of Dr. Arturo Jimenez Borja. His decision to restore the site has come under criticism with the new thinking in archaeology. Still it makes for an impressive site to be seen in its current state. The palace was constructed in either the intermediate late period (900 – 1450 AD) or early in the Late horizon period (1450 – 1532 AD) with four distinct areas. A single entrance to the compound takes you into the first area, a large plaza where the Curara or Chieftain would hold audiences with the people to receive tribute. In addition, it was probably used for public religious ceremonies and banquets. The Chieftain or Curaca and his court would be located on the large elevated platform in this area while the ceremonies were performed.
The second area you enter served as the living quarters for the permanent residents. It includes a kitchen and other rooms used for various activities in daily life. Located throughout the site you will find tools used in the grinding of corn for cooking as well as large ceramic pots discovered during excavation.
The third area contains special architectural details that indicate it was probably used for private religious ceremonies. There is a door in this area, small and low, which is in the Ichma style of architecture. It reminded me of a key hole. This and other Ichma architectural details in the palace give strong support to the idea that a leader of this culture first used the structure. Another beautiful detail in this area are the six triangular niches on one of the walls. Archaeologists postulate that these may be marks for astronomical events or they perhaps held idols of the Gods worshiped during these times.
The fourth and final area contains a small courtyard and terrace possibly used in the preparation and storage of perishable products. Later excavation of the area found objects that tend to support this theory. The Palace is like a labyrinth and when you tour it, there are times you feel as if you might not be able to find your way back to the exit. There are many long and narrow passageways and stairs, which I found confusing when I worked my way through the structure without a guide. Outside the palace is a stairway around the back that takes you up to several viewing points where you can see the structure from above. In 1956, an urn was discovered in the palace containing 21 Inca “khipu”. The khipu is a system of knots tied in strands of string. It is still being investigated as to whether this is a form of language, an accounting system or both used be various cultures.
In the late 1990’s the archaeologist Guillermo Cock discovered a large burial ground. Next to the Palace and occupying the hills and surrounding area as many as 10,000 bodies of Inca men, women and children are believed to be buried. Cock and his team rescued more than 2,000 of these mummies. Invaluable information on the life and times of the Inca were saved by this effort. It will take decades for the scientists to evaluate all the findings. Once those studies are completed, the mummies and artifacts will be returned and placed in a museum.
There were 50,000 to 60,000 artifacts recovered with the mummies. Entire families were found in large mummy bundles, wrapped in layers of cotton and beautiful textiles. Some of the bundles clearly contained the Inca elite as their bundles were topped with “falsas cabezas” or false heads. Many of the mummies were in excellent condition although some had deteriorated due to water seepage from the local residents. You can find a few of the opened graves near the palace that can be observed when you visit the site.
Visiting this second site has taught me that there is a lot more depth to the Huacas of Lima than I originally thought. Huaca or Sacred Place has many meanings to Peruvians and can stretch through many ages. I am already looking forward to visiting the next Huaca and telling you all about it.
Tours of this site are available but must be scheduled in advance. Entrance to the site on your own is S/.5 Soles. Tours are S/.15 for a conventional tour, S/.20 for an Educational tour, S/.20 for a bilingual tour.
The Huaca Puruchuco is by the 4.5 km of the Carretera Central (Central Highway) in the district of Ate.