Chan Chan was the capital of the Chimu kingdom, the chief state in Peru before the establishment of the Inca Empire. The Chimu kingdom reached the height of its power in the fifteenth century, not long before falling under the Incas. The planning of this huge city, the biggest in pre-Colombian America, reflects an elaborate system of social-class stratification. The center of the city is divided into nine walled "citadels," each constructed out of adobe brick finished with mud, and each containing temples, cemeteries, gardens, reservoirs and symmetrically arranged rooms. These citadels, it is believed, were the living quarters, burial places and warehouses of the aristocracy. The bulk of the city's population, however, lived outside of the citadels in much more modest quarters. Because these remnants of a complex culture and society require continuous protection from natural erosion, the abandoned and fragile site of Chan Chan was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1986.
The largest Pre-Columbian city in South America, Chan Chan is an archaeological site located in the Peruvian region of La Libertad, just north of Trujillo. Covering an area of approximately 20 square kilometers, Chan Chan was constructed by the Chimor (the kingdom of the Chimu), a late intermediate period civilization which grew out of the remnants of the Moche civilization. The vast mud city of Chan Chan was built between c.850 CE and c.1470 CE and was the imperial capital until Chimor was conquered by the Inca in the 15th century. It is estimated that 30,000 people lived in the city of Chan Chan.
The city is composed of ten walled citadels which housed ceremonial rooms, burial chambers, temples, reservoirs and some residences. Each of these citadels has a rectangular configuration with a north-facing entrance, high walls, and a labyrinth of passages. The walls themselves were constructed of adobe brick, and were then covered with a smooth cement into which intricate designs were carved. There are two styles of design present in these carvings: one is a ‘realistic’ representation of subjects such as birds, fish, and small mammals; and the other is a more graphic, stylized representation of the same subjects. While earlier civilizations concentrated on cat-like and anthropomorphic forms, the Chimu style shows a preference for maritime motifs. The carvings at Chan Chan depict fish, pelicans, and nets for catching various sea creatures. Chan Chan, unlike most other coastal ruins in Peru, is located extremely close to the Pacific Ocean Chan Chan was added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. The city is severely threatened by erosion from El Niņo, which causes heavy rains and flooding on the Peruvian coast. Present-day visitors to Chan Chan can enter the Tschudi Complex, believed to be one of the later citadels built in the city. There are also several other Chimu and Moche ruins in the area around Trujillo.
The Chimu Kingdom, with Chan Chan as its capital, reached its apogee in the 15th century, not long before falling to the Incas. The planning of this huge city, the largest in pre-Columbian America, reflects a strict political and social strategy, marked by the city's division into nine 'citadels' or 'palaces' forming autonomous units.
Threats to the Site
The vast and fragile site of Chan Chan was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1986, the same year it was inscribed on the World Heritage List. Its adobe, or earthen, structures are quickly damaged by natural erosion as they become exposed to air and rain and they require continuous conservation efforts and substantial ancillary measures. The Committee recommended, therefore, that appropriate measures be taken for the conservation, restoration and management of the site, that excavation work be halted unless accompanied by appropriate conservation measures and that all possible steps be taken to control plundering of the site. A substantive state of conservation report was prepared in 1993 and reported to the seventeenth session of the World Heritage Committee.
Since then, efforts of the site administrators have been directed towards the preparation of a master plan and training of conservation and management personnel, with substantial support from the World Heritage Fund. In 1999, a comprehensive master plan addressing conservation and management issues, as well as the interpretation of the site for visitors, will be completed.
A first Pan-American Course on the Conservation and Management of Earthen Architectural and Archaeological Heritage, which directly benefits to the preservation and management planning for the site, was held in Chan Chan in 1996, jointly organised by the Government of Peru, ICCROM, CRATerre EAG and the Getty Conservation Institute. A second course is scheduled for 1999.
In 1998 the impact of El Niņo, the warm Pacific current which affects climate world-wide, was unusually strong, leading to torrential rain and flooding. Emergency measures had to be taken, with assistance from the World Heritage Fund, to protect Chan Chan. The impact of El Niņo on the site has, however, been relatively modest and the protective measures, undertaken with emergency assistance from the World Heritage Fund, were effective.
Because in that town the sun's rays burned vath fury, its inhabitants called it "Chan Chan" which means sun-sun in the Chimu tongue. Later, the Spanish conquistadors rechristened it as Chan Chan, a name still borne today by the biggest mud citadel in PreColumbian America and second in importance in the world.
Today the ruins of the citadel that include squares, dwellings, stores, workshops, labyrinths, walls, roads and pyramidal temples, take up an area of four square miles in the valley of Moche and Santa Catalina, formerly known as Chimor or Chimu.
The mystique of the Chimus can be sensed with every step taken in Chan Chan, a people dedicated to gold work, agriculture, textiles and architecture.
The city is impressive with magnificent walls decorated with geometrical figures in relief, zoomorphic stylizations and mythological beings. The intelligence of the Chimu architects guided them in developing a vast system of ditches and subterranean channels capable of carrying water over great distances.
Because of these characteristics, many experts have compared Chan Chan to Tectihuacan in Mexico, and the ancient cities of Egypt, Mesopotamia and China.
Archeologist Francisco Iriarte Brener, member of the Chan Chan Restoration Committee, maintains that this citadel, which could hold up to 100 thousand inhabitants, was occupied exclusively by officials, administrators and priests, who ranked second in the social hierarchy.
For three centuries, Chan Chan, Chimu capital, seemed to be unconquerable but in 1460 the powerful Inca hosts invaded the city. Today, the citadel seems to come to life again as hundreds of people visit it, captivated by its charms and its mysteries.
The Chimu kingdom, of which Chan Chan was the capital, reached its peak in the 15th century, not long before falling under the Incas. The planning of this huge city, the biggest in pre-Colombian America, reflects a strict political and social strategy, marked by its division into nine "citadels" or "palaces" forming independent units.
Pre-Inca City and archaeological center declared Archaeological World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Located on a vast plain, very near the ocean (Huanchaco) and at 4 Km northwest of Trujillo.
Capital of the Chimu kingdom, city made of mud, considered as the biggest in America and one of the biggest of the world; its importance is only comparable to the old cities of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China or Teotihuacan in Mexico. It occupies an area of 15 square/km where exist palaces, temples, squares, ponds, gardens, aqueducts, labyrinths. Its walls are ornamented with beautiful and stylized carved drawings of fish, pelicans, rhombuses, foxes, etc. Its construction was begun by the Mochicas in the third Century and was inhabited until the VII century. It became the capital of the Chimu nation in the XII century. The city also received the names of Chimo, Chimor and Cauchan. In the time of its maximum splendor it is calculated that its population was above 100,000 inhabitants, with all the services and excellent urban line.
The city is subdivided in rectangular sectors from 200 to 400 m length, with walls of trapezoidal shape that reach up to 12 m height and with roads among the walls. These sectors today take the name of their main investigators, as Tschudi, Uhle, Tello, Rivero, Velarde, etc. The central part, called Great Chimu Palace is the more advisable place to start your visit, as well as the Huaca "El Dragon". At the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, the city was plundered, being taken many invaluable pieces of gold, silver, gems and ceramics. Through time it has been erosioned and destroyed by the climate due to its proximity to the sea, and effects of "El Niņo" phenomenon. Besides, the huaqueros action, farmers and the lack of protection of authorities in the past it is not well preserved. Some sections of the city have been reconstructed and restored, and at the moment it is declared as intangible area and protected in an extension of seven square/km.