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5000 Years of the “New” World

"How old are the Incas then?" - you might ask. The Inca civilization arose at the beginning of the 13th century, but Tawantinsuyu (the Inca Empire) was not founded before 1438. When the Spanish conquistadores arrived at the beginning of the 16th century the Incas hadn't yet been ruling for a single century. By 1572 the last Inca stronghold had been conquered and an empire, that once stretched from southern Colombia to the northern parts of Chile and Argentina was no more. Many people today have a very skewed perception of the Incas and the history of the South America in general. They don't realize that the Inca civilization was a rather young one. Many buildings in Europe are considerably older than the ruins of Machu Picchu. Notre Dame de Paris, for example, was completed around 100 years before the construction of Machu Picchu even began. Little is known about the many people that settled in South America centuries or even millennia before the Incas, especially on the Peruvian coast. These people were no ‘wildlings’; some of them were already living in cities 4,500 years ago. And all of these civilizations left traces, which you can explore today.
Pachacámac
Bimbino and Bambina got their first glimpse of an ancient civilization during their time in Lima. Only 40 kilometres southeast of the city lay the ruins of Pachacámac. For the monkeys it was the first day trip out of the city.
Pachacamac. Ruins. The monkeys were excited to see llamas for the first time. The llamas, however, were not so excited to see the monkeys.
Pachacámac developed into a city during the time of the Wari culture (400 - 600). After the collapse of the Wari Empire, Pachacámac became a religious centre of the Ichma culture and was later incorporated into the Inca Empire.
Pachacámac is built from adobe bricks. Like most ancient Peruvian settlements it is located in the valley of a river because only here was it possible to lead a sustainable life. Most of the ruins have been covered by sand over the centuries, so it appears as if Pachacámac had been built in the middle of the desert.
The two best preserved complexes of Pachacámac are the Temple of the Sun and the Acllahuasi, also called the Temple of the Moon. Both buildings were constructed later in Pachacámac’s history, under the rule of the Inca. The Temple of the Sun, built to worship Tahuantinsuyo, the god of the sun, is the ancient city’s biggest structure and resembles a pyramid in shape and size.
Pachacamac. Ruins. The Temple of the Sun, the biggest structure in Pachacámac.
Pachacamac. Ruins. Bambina in front of the Temple of the Sun.
The remains of the Acllahuasi in particular have been beautifully restored: today the Temple of the Moon is one of the main attractions of the ancient city.
Pachacamac. Ruins. El Acllahuasi - the Temple of the Moon.
At the end of their visit Bimbino and Bambina went to consult the famous Oracle of Pachacámac about their future. The oracle told them only a single sentence:
"This country will not let you go."
***
Visiting Machu Picchu had been a dream of Bimbino and Bambina ever since they had first thought of visiting South America. When it was finally time to leave grey and cloudy Lima, the monkeys had a decision to make: follow their dream immediately or travel north to enjoy the good climate and the beaches of Máncora, close to the border with Ecuador. When the Monkeys realized how much there was to see on the way North they postponed their trip to Machu Picchu. They had plenty of time: eleven months more left in South America. The sun was calling. The ancient city would wait.
Bimbino and Bambina had a long way ahead of them. Nearly 1,200 km lay between Lima and Máncora. As their first hitchhiking trip in Peru had been very successful (you can read about it in the post "Paracas: Romance of the Sea"), they were ready to do it again. They planned to visit four ancient sites on their way: Caral, Sechín, Chan Chan and Túcume. Each of these is separated by a distance of roughly 200 km.
***
Caral
The Monkeys' first stop on the way to Máncora was Barranca, a small coastal city 190 km north of Lima. Barranca is one of two gateways to the ancient city of Caral, the other being Supe. Despite its location in South America, Caral is considered to be the second oldest urban civilization in the world. Caral became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2009. Founded around 2,600 BCE, Caral is even slightly older than the Great Pyramids of Gizeh. Only the Sumerian cities of Mesopotamia were already standing when Caral arose. Unfortunately, little is left of this advanced civilization of the "New (!) World". Caral was inhabited for approximately 600 years by the Norte Chico civilization before it was abandoned. It once enclosed an area of 60 hectares and accommodated more than 3,000 inhabitants. What’s more, Caral city was only one of the 19 pyramid complexes that were scattered across a range of 80 km² of the Supe Valley. The whole complex had a population of probably 20,000 people.
After getting dropped off by a taxi in the Supe Valley, it took some walking for the Travelling Monkeys to reach the archaeological site of Caral. With rucksacks on their backs the walk seemed endless, especially under the hot desert sun. It might have been a wise decision to have left their luggage somewhere in town. On first sight Bimbino and Bambina were a little bit disappointed with Caral. It seemed like there was nothing left of the old city but sand. It took them some time along with the explanation of a guide to fully comprehend what they were seeing. Most of the dunes are old temples and pyramids that haven't been fully excavated yet. The archaeologists here still have plenty of work to do, digging out and restoring old stones and walls. Finally it struck the monkeys and they were overwhelmed by the feeling of walking on territory where people used to live 4,500 years ago, especially on a continent that is considered to have been discovered by Europeans. Imagine, if something had gone differently in the world’s development, the Europeans might be the ones to have been discovered.
Caral. Ruins. The tallest pyramid of Caral.
Caral. Ruins. Detail of a pyramid.
Caral. Ruins. The 'amphitheatre' of Caral.
Caral. Ruins. The fertile Supe Valley. The river still provides people with food, just like it did 5000 years ago.
Caral. Ruins. Cuckoo!
***
Sechín
The next stop on their way was the city of Casma in the Ancash region. Like Barranca, Casma is a place of no particular interest, save for the archaeological complex of Sechín near by. Sechín itself is huge, and very old. Some archaeological findings date back as far as 3,500 BCE. Sechín was abandoned around 800 BCE. The main site of interest in the area is a temple called Cerro Sechín. What is special about this temple are its lithic block façades, tessellated with huge stone reliefs, depicting warrior-priests and mutilated bodies. The interpretation of these illustrations is still open to discussion. They range from the display of battle scenes to the marking of the location of an anatomical laboratory. Bimbino and Bambina were quite amused examining these old carvings.
Sechin Temple. View from the top. Cerro Sechín from above.
Sechin Temple. A Soldier A frightening warrior-priest.
Sechin. Ruins. A cut-off head.
Sechin. Ruins. Bambina making fun of the warrior-priests’ decapitated victims.
***
After leaving the Sechín, Bimbino and Bambina travelled further to Huanchaco. Huanchaco is a little coastal town twenty minutes away from Trujillo. It is a good place to relax on the beach, to surf, and to visit Trujillo and two important archaeological sites: Chan Chan and the Huanca de Moche.
***
Chan Chan
Chan Chan is the largest Pre-Columbian city, not only of Peru, but also of South America. Chan Chan was the capital of the Chimu culture, arosing around 900 AD and lasting until it was conquered by the Inca. Chan Chan is the largest adobe city in the world. At its peak it was home to 30,000 inhabitants.
Placed on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1986, Chan Chan immediately got listed as World Heritage in Danger: the reason for this is the precarious state of conservation of the adobe architecture. Unfortunately Chan Chan is located in an area that gets affected by the El Niño phenomenon. El Niño causes massive rainfalls in the normally arid northern Peruvian deserts. The influence it has on the adobe structure can be catastrophic.
When Bimbino and Bambina entered Chan Chan for the first time they quickly forgot all the ancient ruins they had seen so far in Peru. Of course Chan Chan is not as old as Caral, but Chan Chan is grandiose, and beautiful. It became the Travelling Monkeys’ favourite archaeological site up to that point, as it combined a huge restored area, and an even bigger abandoned one, where they could freely walk around the ruins. It was indeed a huge labyrinth of temples.
Chan Chan. Panorama. Chan Chan how it looks today: abandoned and desolated.
Chan Chan. City plan reconstruction. Chan Chan how it looked a thousand years ago.
Chan Chan. Archeologists at work. Archaeologists at work.
Chan Chan. Wall decorations. A decorated wall in Chan Chan.
Chan Chan. Corridor. Chan Chan's citadel after renovation.
Chan Chan. Well/Pool. This is a well where people had their access to water. Now it is a comfortable pool for ducks.
Chan Chan. Bimbino and Bambina and the guards of the citadel.
Chan Chan. Desolation of Chan Chan.
Chan Chan. Chimu Lord, reconstruction. Bimbino and Bambina were given all honours while visiting the Lord of Chimu.
***
The Huacas de Moche
The Huacas de Moche are the remains of the ancient Moche capital Cerro Blanco, named after a volcanic peak. The Moche culture flourished between 100 AD and 800 AD. An abnormal super El Niño occurrence in the sixth century AD is considered to be the most likely reason of the fall of the Moche culture. Thirty years of heavy rainfalls and flooding were followed by thirty years of drought. The religion based on the sacrifices to provide stable weather was undermined. However, it is not the only existing theory of their disruption.
The Huaca del Sol and the Huaca de la Luna are the most prominent buildings of Cerro Blanco, situated opposite of each other in the Moche Valley, only a couple of kilometres southeast of Trujillo. Both buildings are temples made from adobe bricks, originally in the shape of pyramids. The Huaca del Sol is the largest pre-Columbian building of the Americas. Unlike the Huaca de la Luna, it is not possible to visit this pyramid. Big parts of the temple were destroyed by the Spanish colonists, when they redirected the waters of the Moche River to run past the base of the Huaca del Sol in order to facilitate the looting of gold artifacts from the temple.
Huaca del Sol Huaca del Sol. Temple of the Sun.
The Huaca de la Luna is the smaller of the two pyramids in the Moche Valley. Nevertheless it is of higher archaeological value, as it has been left relatively untouched. Once upon a time the Huaca de la Luna was painted in wonderful bright colours. Today the pyramid looks grey and boring on first sight, but once you have entered the inside of the structure, it becomes obvious what it must have looked like in the past. All over the place Bimbino and Bambina could find murals of extraordinary beauty, painted in black, bright red, sky blue, white, and yellow. Unfortunately most of the colour has faded over the time.
Huaca de la Luna. Inside. Inside the Huaca.
Huaca de la Luna. Murals. Faded murals.
Huaca de la Luna. In old times. Once upon a time: The Great Plaza and the North Façade of the Old Temple.
Huaca de la Luna. Bambina. Bambina on the Great Plaza in front of some murals.
***
The last archaeological sites Bimbino and Bambina visited on their way to Máncora were located close by Chiclayo: the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipán and ancient ruins of Túcume.
***
The Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipán
Sipán is also a Moche archaeological site, like the Temples of the Sun and the Moon in Trujillo, located in northern Peru. The site itself is located quite far from Chiclayo. Therefore, visiting a museum was a better alternative, and moreover, all the found treasures were put into the museum anyway. Unfortunately, it is not allowed to take pictures in the museum, but you can find some interesting photos on their website.
Bimbino and Bambina saw a lot of gold and mummies, and tried to understand some historical explanations from a Spanish guide. The golden treasures had high religious value for Moche, so there was a lot of gold buried inside the pyramids and tombs. Most of the royal tombs of Moche culture were looted by Spaniards during the time of colonization. Tons of treasures were melted into golden bricks and transported to Europe. Today they are being carefully taken out, cleaned and preserved in such places as the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipán. However, looting still occurs, as there is no possibility to protect all the tombs spread over hundreds of square kilometres along the Peruvian coast.
***
Túcume
Túcume is rarely visited by tourists, so it feels like a secret place, hidden away from civilization. It is, however, not hidden at all. You can see the pyramids from far away as the landscape is rather flat.
Túcume is usually associated with the culture of Lambayeque which occupied the region between about AD 1000 and 1400. The region where Túcume is located bears the same name, Lambayeque. However, the way the structures were constructed there probably originated from the Moche culture. The Monkeys found the same patterns painted on the walls of the pyramids as at the Temple of the Moon in Trujillo. Túcume was a religious centre for a few cultures, which replaced each other in the course of the history.
Just as the constructions of Chan Chan, the pyramids in Túcume were heavily influenced by El Niño.
It is said that the locals fear to go to this place; the pyramids are believed to be cursed. The local shamans (healers), however, come to use the mysterious power of pyramids for their rituals.
The place seemed indeed mysterious, but not scary at all. The most exciting thing was to go up the mountain, where artificial stairs were built, and enjoy the view of the whole valley from the top. It seemed to be the right place to finish their exploration of the ancient civilizations of the New World.
Tucume. View on the Temples. The view from one of the pyramids.
Tucume. Paintings in a temple. Typical murals in one of the pyramids, similar to those at the Temple of the Moon in Trujillo.
Tucume. View on the Temples.
Tucume. Plasticos. The site is quite clean, thanks to the big picturesque bins standing around.
Tucume. View on the Temples. Nature has done impressive work on the pyramids destruction.
Tucume. View on the Temples. There are in fact around 250 pyramids spread throughout the territory of the region of Lambayeque.
***
The Monkeys made it in two weeks to the northern point of Peru, Máncora, a nice location on the Pacific Coast: good weather, warm and clean ocean, a good place to stay for a few days and relax from day trips, trekking and carrying heavy backpacks.
Those two weeks were saturated with archaeology, ruins, sand, sun, and desert. However, there were a few things omitted in this post: hitchhiking, hospitality and modern cities on the way. All that is to come in the next entry! We will write about hitchhiking experience of Bimbino and Bambina (they hitchhiked the whole 1200 km along the coast!), about their Couchsurfing experiences in Huanchaco, Chiclayo and Piura, and about Peruvian coastal colonial cities.
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