Day 3 |
Mar 17, 2012


By Claire Allum, Archaeologist

Co-ordinates: 08° 13’ 42” S 78°59’ 01” W
Weather: overcast, hazy turning to blue sky at mid-morning
Air Temperature: High 25 C / 77 F

It was overcast as I set off on our adventure to visit Chan Chan, the largest adobe (mud brick) city in the Americas. Patches of blue sky suggested that the day might brighten.

Silversea had arranged for two modern double-decker buses for our use—especially driven up the coast from Lima. It gave us the opportunity to take spectacular shots of the old Spanish architecture in the city of Trujillo as well as scenic shots of the countryside as we made our way to Chan Chan along the Pan American Highway.

Chan Chan was the capital city of a vast coastal state that existed in northern Peru from the 8th century AD until it was conquered by the Incas around AD 1470. The ruins of Chan Chan extend over 20 square kilometers and most of it looks like an undulating sand-scape of raised mounds and depressions, some large and some small. These are old buildings, their roofs long gone, and their mud walls melted onto the floors. Occasionally, high walls divide sections of the city. The center of the city is dominated with either 9 or 12 ciudadelas (palaces)—the number depending on which archaeological researcher you believe.

The ancient city is so large that only small sections have been excavated and even fewer have been restored for tourists to visit. We visited the partially restored Ciudadela Tschudi.
I entered through its original entrance, which is narrow to restrict entrance to the inner sanctum of the Chimú king.

The ciudadelas were not truly palaces in the European sense of the word. They were more like administrative and storage centers. Walking by the dozens of storage rooms and offices used for meeting with tribute bearers and perhaps also people requesting supplies, I thought perhaps a better name for the ciudadelas might be the Chimú Revenue Service.

Features of Chan Chan that I enjoyed included the beautiful friezes, the open fishing net walls (representing both the importance of the sea to the livelihood of the Chimú and acting as a conduit for air to keep interior rooms cool), the large walk-in well adding a splash of green colour to the dun-coloured adobe, and the twisting maze of interior corridors and small rooms. I had to keep reminding myself how much more confusing the buildings would have been when the corridor walls were at their full height.

After leaving Chan Chan, we drove towards a conical white hill called Cerro Blanco (meaning “white hill”). At its base is the Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon). We had lunch in a hacienda close by and I could see the Temple from my lunch table. The hacienda owner bred Peruvian Paso horses and we were treated to a performance of three cantering horses while eating. During dessert, two Peruvian dancers performed traditional folk dances.

The afternoon was what I had been waiting for. Although I loved visiting Chan Chan in the morning, it was the Huaca de la Luna I most wanted to see. It is part of one of the largest Moche sites on the north Peruvian coast. Like their descendants, the Chimú, the Moche had a strong maritime orientation and much of their art represents this. Archaeologists have been working intensively at the site and I had not visited it in three years. I knew there was bound to be more uncovered. I was not disappointed. More wall friezes – brightly coloured in red, white, yellow and black – had been exposed in the complex layering of walls within the building.

My favourite part of the afternoon was when Silver Explorer guests entered the Main Plaza area of the Huaca and hearing some of them gasp when they saw the giant panel friezes along its walls. The colours are still bright and the images of naked prisoners, bound at the neck being led to sacrifice; the armed Moche soldiers in full headdress and uniform; the dancers with linked hands; and the horrific monster gods; can all be clearly seen.

Back aboard the Silver Explorer, our Recap & Briefing dealt primarily with the Moche and Chimú people’s greatest adversary, the weather, and specifically the El Niño event. I ended the evening with a short introduction to the problem of antiquities looting in northern Peru.

I was tired after my first full expedition day, but it was a good tired.