Saturday, July 14, 2012

Chan Chan

Before visiting the Huaca de la Luna in the afternoon of the 7th, we made our first stop that morning in Chan Chan.

Chan Chan is a the remains of a mud-brick city built starting in the 9th Century by the Chimú people and served as the capital of the kingdom of Chimor.   The city consisted of nine palace compounds, each built and occupied by a subsequent ruler or royal family.  Each compound, in turn, was made up of a public ceremonial sector, a private religious sector, a residential sector for the royal family, storehouses, and a funerary building where the mummies of deceased rulers were housed. 

As each ruler died his successor built a new compound for himself and his family and entourage. However, the previous rulers' compounds were not abandoned, but continued to serve as temples and ritual centers dedicated to the veneration of the deceased kings. 

The complex of royal compounds was itself surrounded by fields and residential areas for the common people.  Scholars estimate that Chan Chan and its surrounding areas may have housed 30,000 people, and perhaps as many as 50,000.   The kingdom of Chimor lasted until about 1470, when the Incas dethroned the last Chimú king, Minchancaman.

The city covered some 20 km² (12 sq. mi.), with the dense core of palace compounds alone covering some 6 km².  It was the largest mud-brick city ever built in the Americas.

I had been there 40 years ago, when I took a childhood trip to the region with my parents.   Chan Chan, unlike the Huaca de la Luna, was pretty much as I remembered it.

Only part of Chan Chan has been excavated -though much of it has been looted- and most of that work was done in the 1970s.  Since then, the bulk of research has been focused on preserving the city, specially what has been excavated and reconstructed, from the wear-and-tear of visitors, humidity, and rainstorms brought by El Niño.  

Although when I was a kid, because my dad knew the archaeologists involved, we got an extensive tour of Chan Chan, this time around -like other visitors- our group was limited to touring the Nik An complex (formerly called the Tschudi Complex), which is believed to have been one of the last ones erected, and has been cleared, preserved, and reconstructed to a large degree.

40-foot tall external wall of the palace
Frieze depicting the sea and fishes swimming in an ocean currents
One of two wells in the palace.
Frieze depicting waves on the sea and what may be sea otters

Internal esplanade
An altar, surrounded by crosshatch pattern depicting fishing nets
Palace entrance courtyard

Religious portion of the palace compound

Unexcavated parts of Chan Chan

No comments: