America's largest adobe city
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America's largest adobe city

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America's largest adobe city

Traveling through Peru is discovering endless mysterious places, with stories hidden in corners that perhaps you had never seen before setting foot in this country. Although Machu Picchu is the best-known archaeological complex in Peru, there are other impressive destinations such as the citadel of Chan Chan, a large complex made of adobe where you will learn what life was like for the Chimú culture.


It was the political, religious and administrative capital of the Chimor kingdom that dominated the ethnic groups of the entire north coast of Peru. Built entirely with earth between the 8th and 15th centuries AD, it constitutes an exceptional testimony of the urban planning of pre-Columbian America and represents the pinnacle of urban development in the Andean area. The differentiated use of living spaces and the hierarchical construction of buildings expresses the ideal and political and social complexity of its organization. In this archaeological zone, a strictly urban core area and a peripheral area made up of fenced fields, huacas and wetlands can be seen. It was built over approximately 650 years, reaching its peak in the fifteenth century, shortly before being annexed by the Inca Empire. It retains to this day its monumental features and its extraordinary mural ornamentation in high relief made of clay.



Chan Chan Archaeological Zone, is located in the province of Trujillo, La Libertad Region.


What does Chan Chan mean?

And many will wonder, why is it called Chan Chan? The most used hypothesis that is handled is that the translation into Spanish from Quingnam (language of the Chimú) would be that of 'Great Sun' or 'Splendid Sun', due to the intense solar exposure to which the city of Chimú was exposed. Chan Chan.



Between the years 600 and 700, on the north coast of Peru, models of cities emerged that did not share the main similarities of other towns. This avant-garde style was imposed by the Chimú Kingdom, in charge of giving life to the city of Chan Chan. Composed of nine small citadels whose streets and narrow passageways lead to large plazas, terraces and truncated pyramids, revealing the remarkable degree of planning of the Chimú.


This set of buildings was the capital of the Chimú kingdom, a state organization that depended on the Chimú culture, and its walls are made entirely of adobe (mud mass made up of clay and sand, mixed with straw and dried in the sun) in its entirety. In these buildings, the members of the Chimú culture demonstrated their ability to build (with their formidable engravings, bas-reliefs and details that can be seen to date), in addition to being ahead of their time due to the quality and finish of their preparation. of textiles and stand out in the creation of metallurgical articles.


November 28, 1986. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO, finally gave it the visibility that Chan Chan deserved: the pre-Columbian city of adobe was included in the List of World Heritage. Thus, the history of the largest mud citadel in Latin America began to be claimed, although it began a long, long time ago.


Currently, the archaeological site that makes up the city of Chan Chan has an approximate size of 20 square kilometers, in which we can find walled complexes, which are considered palaces, throughout the metropolis. The houses of Chayhuac, Small, New, Center, East, West, Large, North, Sea and Birds are the ones you can find on your visit to this adobe city. Also, rooms were found in which domestic activities were practiced such as the use of fulling mills, stoves and ceramics; in addition to more than 140 water wells that supplied the entire population.


Chan Chan City


History of the Chimú culture and the citadel of Chan Chan

The Chimú culture was one of the most important in the entire history of Peru. It settled on the north coast of the country between the years 1000 and 1470 and at its height it spread from Lima to the border with Ecuador. His territory was vast!


The Chimú were great masters of textiles, ceramics, metallurgy and goldsmithing, but above all their architectural work is known. Although everything that the Chimú built and created has unparalleled value, it is inevitable to highlight the masterpiece of this culture: the citadel of Chan Chan.


Chan Chan stands out for one main feature: being the largest adobe citadel in America. And it is that this place occupies nothing more and nothing less than 20 square kilometers.


But what you will find in these archaeological ruins is much more. Chan Chan has hundreds of stories waiting to be told, every detail of this construction has a meaning that will make you know the thought of the Chimú culture.


The importance of Chan Chan in the Chimú era is undeniable: this place was considered the capital of the entire kingdom and the great Chimú, the maximum leader of this culture, lived here.


Chan Chan was made up of a total of ten citadels, among which were more than 100,000 workshops, pyramidal temples, streets and walls. It is estimated that between 60,000 and 100,000 people lived in this labyrinthine framework. Can you imagine what it would be like to walk through its streets?


The walls of Chan Chan are a wonder to behold: all of them are delicately decorated with high reliefs showing everyday things of the Chimú culture, especially those related to nature: waves, birds, fish...


The Chimús reigned with great power from this place and also used its surroundings for day-to-day activities and sacrificial rituals. In fact, in 2018, just a few kilometers from Chan Chan, a group of archaeologists discovered 140 child skeletons and 200 baby llamas from what is believed to be the largest known child sacrifice in all of history.


But its successful culture could not last forever: with the arrival of the Incas its decline would begin. In 1470 the Inca Túpac Yupanqui arrived with his troops at the citadel of Chan Chan and, after several confrontations, besieged the place, destroying the tunnels that supplied water to the entire city.


Thus, little by little the population of the citadel of Chan Chan was reduced until it was only 10,000 people. 30 years after the arrival of Túpac Yupanqui, the few surviving Chimús rebelled against the Incas, but their power was far superior, so this rebellion was the end point of the creative culture of Chan Chan.


With the arrival of the conquest, the Spaniards were cruel to Chan Chan and looted it, since they thought that a great treasure of gold and silver was hidden here.


But the legacy of the Chimú culture remained forever in Peru and it is suspected that much remains to be discovered about the citadel of Chan Chan. In fact, just two years ago, in October 2018, the experts working in this great complex found the most recent find: 19 idols carved in wood with a ceramic mask, which are believed to have the function of protecting a specific area of ​​this place.


The great secrets and incredible architecture of the citadel of Chan Chan attract thousands of people every day. The importance of this place is such that UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site in 1986.


Chan Chan Citadel



The core of Chan Chan is made up of 10 "citadels", so called because they are large fenced-in enclosures ("canchones"), inside which many smaller structures are housed, resembling small walled cities, of which 9 have many common characteristics. Seen from the north and clockwise they have been named Squier, Gran Chimú, Bandelier, Uhle, Chayhuac, Tschudi, Rivero, Laberinto, Tello and Velarde. The names derive, in most of them, from travelers and researchers who have fixed their eyes and thoughts on this pre-Hispanic city. As an example of the size of these structures, we will mention the Rivero citadel, which occupies an area of 8.7 hectares, o Gran Chimú (the largest) with 22.1 hectares. The others have an average of 14 hectares.


The way Chan Chan is organized reflects that there was a strong stratification, with different social classes occupying different areas and buildings according to their economic condition. The citadels, for example, are protected by high walls and have a single entrance, facilitating the control of those who entered and left.


In addition to the nuclear area, we can distinguish in the organization of Chan Chan other 2 important zones: To the south and west of the citadels, groups of minor constructions, agglutinated, called "marginal neighborhoods" and "elite architectural complexes", finally, a a series of scattered structures such as reservoirs, roads, pyramids, paths, cemeteries, ditches, sunken orchards ("huachaques"), and dikes.


The citadels, as already said, are ten, and it is noteworthy that at least nine of them (except the one called Tello), share formal characteristics, such as:

  •  They are fenced rectangular areas.
  • They have north / south orientation.
  • They are divided into three sectors.
  • A high degree of planning in its construction is remarkable.
  • Main access located to the north.
  • Share a similar zoning within the citadels.
  • The presence of squares, audiences, deposits, funerary platform and wells.

Inside, its organization is given by 3 sectors: north, central and south. The northern sector is a square or patio with sidewalks (low walls that can be used to sit) on its perimeter, with an access to the south, which is reached by going up a small ramp. This access leads to "hearings" and deposits. These so-called audiences are constructions that seen from above (plan view) have a "U" shape and that must have housed an official or character linked to the most important administrative functions of the city.



To build this city, materials from the region were used. The citadels were built using adobe walls on stone foundations joined with mud, wider at the base and narrower at the top. To build floors, wall fills, ramps and platforms, broken adobe was used, together with earth, stones and other debris. The wood was used to make posts, columns, and lintels. Cane, reed and mat were also used. The roofs were made by weaving bundles of straw.


One of the details that current visitors most admire is the great beauty, variety and number of walls decorated with high reliefs. These were made with molds and decorated the walls of patios, audiences and corridors, inside the citadels. The most common decorative motifs were geometric combinations, but representations of fish and birds are also common.


For the archaeologist Kolata, Chan Chan was not built in a single moment, and based on the study of the adobe, he proposes 3 moments in the urban history of this city. Stage one would correspond to the original nucleus, formed by the Uhle and Chayhuac citadels. Later it grew to the west, with Tello and Laberinto, the latter the first to use the tripartite division of its interior space. In stage two, Gran Chimú and the buildings in the north and west sectors are built. Stage 3 is marked by the construction of the remaining 5 citadels.


Adobe City


How to get to the citadel of Chan Chan?

The citadel of Chan Chan is located just 5 kilometers from the center of Trujillo, making it a place that can be easily reached. To do this, you will have to take a bus to Huanchaco and ask the driver to notify you at the bus stop closest to Chan Chan. You can also take this route by taxi, a good option if you are traveling with more people than you can share this means of transport with.


If you prefer to do it with an organized excursion, at Denomades we have the Chan Chan Archaeological Complex tour, in which we will not only visit this citadel, but we will also make a stop at the Huaca El Dragón or Huaca Arcoíris, another of the great tourist attractions. of Trujillo. You can also hire the Archaeological and Huanchaco Tour, where in addition to getting to know Chan Chan, you will visit the Huanchaco beach and the huacas del Sol y la Luna. All this, as always, in the company of one of our guides who will tell you all the details of each place and to whom you can ask each of your questions.


Prices and schedules of the citadel of Chan Chan

Hours: Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.


Price: general admission is S/ 11 (just over 3 dollars) and there are discounts for seniors, children and students.


Guided tour: the citadel of Chan Chan can be visited on your own, but we recommend that you always do it with a guide, since the place makes much more sense when they tell you everything that happened here and the meaning of each one of its constructions and symbology. The price of this service is around S/ 40 (12 dollars) per group.


And if you allow us to give you an extra piece of advice, venture out on a gastronomic route and try the delicious liberteña food: the stews will delight your palate with unique flavors and dishes. A good cebiche a la norteña, which is usually accompanied with seafood, or the classic Shambar, a succulent soup with stews and smoked ham, are two of the dishes that you cannot miss.


Best Tours in Peru

Many are the routes that take you to Machu Picchu, but none is like the Inca Trail Tours, the most famous pedestrian path in the Americas. After flying from the capital of Perú, Lima, you will arrive in Cusco to walk for four days along a path through forests and dense fog, millenary stone steps and discovering the ruins of ancient fortifications and Inca cities, and all the time enjoying majestic views.

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