It is just outside the city of Trujillo, on the desert coast, that you can find the site of Chan Chan. World Heritage by UNESCO since 1986, the ancient capital of the Chimu kingdom is the largest city in the world built of adobe (a mixture of straw, clay and water, dried in the sun).
A huge sand city
At first sight, you will only see desert, hills of sand and rocks. You have to get closer to distinguish walls of 12 meters high, around the ruins of the Chan Chan city. There are now only 6 km2 of the 20 built in the fifteenth century. Despite the ravages of time, archaeologists have been able to save most of the site through a detailed restoration.
The city is built on a precise urban plan. It reflects the desire to separate the elite from the people. The citadels are like villas with U-shape and organized to draw perpendicular streets. Chan Chan is, above all, the political capital of the kingdom, which is evident by the many temples you find here. Unfortunately, these buildings have largely disappeared because of looters and the weather conditions. It is also possible to see an incredible richely decorated tomb of a dignitary Chimu.
The city also played a religious role. The Chimu worshiped many deities associated with daily life. Unlike the Incas or Mayans they did not worship the sun which was far too devasting in this region and they preferred the moon. It is visible both day and night and also guides the tides and flowering of the plants. To attract its favours, the Chimu occasionally offered sacrifices of young children and animals! The ocean was also an important deity: they would pray to ask for abundant fish.
Outside of the city, the neighbourhoods grow disorganized to accommodate the rest of the population. However, every family has its own house with different areas for grains and animals.
The Incas and the conquest of the North
In 1470 the Inca emperor Tupac Yupanqui manages to conquer the Chimu kingdom. In the fifteenth century, the Incas from southern Peru are expanding. They cross the highlands of the Andes and continue their journey to the north. It is in this region where the Chimu civilization was established around the year 900. The conquest of Chan Chan is just a detail in the Inca conquest, however, it marks the end of the Chimu civilization.
When the Chimu established their fishing village in such a dry area, they had to adapt quickly. This is why they developed a highly advanced irrigation system, which allowed them to change the desert into a fertile plain. But this strength was also their weakness! The Incas knew they could not enter the walled city and they chose to destroy the irrigation system. The Chimu, deprived of water, quickly surrendered to their aggressor.
Chan Chan or the Chimu art
The Chimu civilization left a large number of objects as a testament to its art. While working the land was one of their main tasks, the metallurgy and ceramics also occupied a large part of everyday life. Numerous objects found during excavations give us a magnificent testimony of their knowledge. Vases and objects for worship in precious metal, are the most finely crafted. The Chimu are also recognized for their ceramics in form of creatures and animals. Many of them are kept in the local museum, it is strongly recommended to visit this place when you reach to North coast of Peru.
The themes of agriculture and fishing have also greatly inspired the decoration of the city. The Bas-relief decoration takes forms of fish and waves or venison. Geometric shapes also occupy an important place in the Chimu art, the diamond is their favourite form!
On another note: every archaeological site in the region should have its … Peruvian dog! This species is typically for Peru and very unlike in its physcial. You might find them at the entrance to attractions such as Huaca del Sol and Huaca del Brujo (The Wizard!)