Thursday, December 19, 2013

Chan Chan, Peru

After the two huacas, it was time to explore Chan Chan. Chan Chan, meaning Sun-Sun is a Pre-Colombian city constructed by the Chimor from the Chimu culture. The adobe city which is the largest of its kind in the world was built around AD 850 and was the center of the Chimu Empire until its conquest by the Inca Empire in AD 1470. It was the imperial capital for the Chimu where it is reckoned around 100,000 people lived. This site was discovered by conquistador Francisco Pizarro and was originally placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1986 because of the precarious state of conservation of the earthen architecture and its vulnerability to the extreme climatic events caused by El NiƱo phenomenon that affects the northern coast of Peru. Since then the Peruvian government has taken extensive measures to protect, improve and conserve the site. The triangular city surrounded by walls 60 feet high, has ten individually walled citadels or palaces, clearly delineated by high thick earthen walls which form the independent units. Within these units buildings including temples, residences and storehouses are arranged around open spaces including their own reservoirs, and funeral platforms. The wealthiest lived closest to the center while most of the population lived outside and may not have been able to enter the core of the city. The visitor’s entrance is at the Tschudi Complex also now called the “Palacio Nik-An which was one of the later built of the ten palaces. Entering into the massive Ceremonial Courtyard is like stepping back through time. The courtyard is adorned along its four walls with bas-relief imagery. This is our first and it turned out only glimpse that this is a tourist facility. There is a small throne set up with props and a man dressed as a Chinu warrior. For a fee, you can dress up, sit on the bench and with the warrior posing with you, take photos. Well, we are tourists so guess what, I did it. The warrior, who spoke great English, had lived in LA and actually was a licensed plumbing contractor! dressed me up with a breast plate, arm amulets and a couple of different crowns and posed with me while Tom took photos. Tom then stood with him, while I took one of the two of them. Definitely kitschy but what the heck. Leaving the courtyard, the numerous walls throughout the city which served to block wind and absorb sunlight create a labyrinth of passages and alleys. Walking through the adobe city is transcendence in time as the life and beliefs of the Chimu is displayed for all to see. Its great walls displaying the devotion to the ocean and mythological beliefs are prominent throughout. Unlike the Inca who worshipped the sun, the Chimu worshipped the moon. While the sun fuelled the harsh desert-like environment they worked so hard to cultivate and make fertile, the Chimu knew there was a relationship between the moon and the sea – the provider of life. For this reason there were offerings to the moon. Most often these were fruit, chicha, animals and birds but at times the Chimu also offered their children in hopes they would also become a god. This close relationship to the sea can be found through the graphic storytelling on its walls. The adobe bricks are covered with a smooth surface and then decorated with friezes with intricate designs. Depicted in bas-relief are shapes of waves and aquatic life with otters, whales, sea lions, pelicans, numerous fish and shellfish. The sea itself, called Ni, was the center of all life for the Chimu as they depended on it for food. In Chimu life the whale and the otter were both sacred animals and the sea lion also played a special role as they believed the animal would accompany the dead as they passed on to the afterlife. The 12,000 artists that decorated all of the walls lived in a group of structures that were smaller than the nobles but more complex than the huts commoners lived in. We saw their huge walk-in well which is now a small lake with quite a large duck contingent and the mausoleum where the king was buried along with his wives, concubines, servants and other worldly possessions. Yes, the king was dead but the others were alive when they followed him into the afterlife. Walking back to the main courtyard and entrance, we are both astounded at the sheer size of this citadel – the capital city of the Chimu Empire. When we stopped to consider that this is only one of ten palaces that were constructed, it just takes your breath away. It is huge. And decaying, unfortunately. Unlike the Inca, who came later and used stone for their citadels, these earlier cultures relied on adobe clay bricks. Throughout the site, huge canvas covers are erected in an attempt to protect the fragile adobe from further erosion. The extended vision for Chan Chan is that it maintains its status as a cultural symbol for Peru that links the past to the present. The continued conservation and development of the archaeological site will contribute to its value and to the strengthening of Peruvian cultural identity. If only they can figure out a way to stop the darned erosion.

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