Exploring the Ancient Adobe City of Chan Chan

In northern Peru, half way between the Pacific Coast and Trujillo is the largest pre-Colombian adobe city in the world, Chan Chan. The city, which dates back to approximately 850 A.D, was the administrative, religious and political capital of the Chimu State.

At its height the city covered more than 20 km of sacred and symbolic architecture of the Chimu People whose mythic and cosmic beliefs are evident in the walls of the city, even today.

Extensive excavations have revealed the complexity of this pre-Hispanic site that encompassed a total of 11 cuidadelas or citadels including the Chayhuac Citadel.

The Chimu Empire controlled the city until 1470, when the Incas took over. By which time, there were an estimated 30,000 habitants living permanently in Chan Chan. When the Incas conquered the Chimu Empire in the 15th century, the city already controlled about two-thirds of agricultural land ever irrigated along the Pacific Coast of South America.

Many of the adobe walls are covered with carvings depictive of its coastal location including birds, fish, crabs, pelicans, fishing nets, sea turtles and other small mammals.

The inhabitants of Chan Chan grew their produce in the ‘sunken gardens’, deep trenches that were able to sustain agriculture. These gardens are now desertified because of the lowering water table. In their place is now a man-made lake that gives you an idea of what the area would have looked like.

Chan Chan is extremely vulnerable to heavy rains and extreme weather events in the region. In fact, the day we visited, it was closed in the morning due to heavy rainfall overnight. When it did open in the afternoon, many of the citadels were still enveloped in protective plastic and there was a team undertaking restorative works for the remainder of the afternoon.

To help preserve this important cultural heritage site, the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. In 1988 the Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural drew up a ‘Master Plan’ for the conservation and management of the historic site.

Although undoubtedly highly restored, this ancient site is in excellent condition for being constructed with such vulnerable material. It is truly a marvel of ancient architecture. With the preservation works that go on here, we can only hope that it stays that way.

2 Responses to “Exploring the Ancient Adobe City of Chan Chan”
  1. Carole Malinda says:

    How clever and knowledgable were those ancient tribes,They left their footprints in a way we can never expect to do , except in a negative way.

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  • Natasha Malinda from Melbourne, Australia
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