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Since 1983

From The California Native Newsletter:

The Legacy of Chan Chan

View of Chan Chan By Ellen Klein
They called the city “Jang-Jang,” which means, “Sun-Sun” in Yunca, the Chimu language. The name evolved into “Chan Chan” during the Spanish rule.

Chan Chan was the capital of the Chimus, who, before the Incas built their mighty empire, dominated over 600 miles of Peru’s Pacific coastline. The Chimu civilization lasted for almost five hundred years, beginning around 950 A.D.

Located in a hot and dry valley, about 300 miles north of Lima near the present day City of Trujillo, Chan Chan was the largest Pre-Columbian South American urban center before the arrival of the Europeans. At its height, Chan Chan had a population of over 50,000 and covered more than 15 square miles.

The city was built entirely of adobe, a local material perfectly suited for the environment—it collects heat during the day and slowly releases it at night. The adobe walls reached as high as 33 feet and provided privacy while guarding against dust, sand and high winds.

The city itself consisted of ten enormous walled quadrangles, called ciudadelas (citadels), each built with only one entrance. Inside each ciudadela were large plazas, residences, temples, gardens, reservoirs, various rooms and storage areas, and a cemetery. They were accessed along very wide corridors. It is believed that only the aristocracy lived within these quadrangles, as evidenced by the intricate decoration adorning the walls. Carved into the adobe, the friezes represent local animals, sea life, geometric shapes, and other designs. Some areas were also covered with precious metals. The common people inhabited barrios outside of the ciudadela’s walls.

A ciudadela was built by slaves for the king, his servants and aristocracy. When the king died, it became his mausoleum. He was buried there, surrounded by his treasures, and with him were also buried an entourage of as many as 300 victims of sacrifice. The new king would then have his own ciudadela built, as did the king after him. Today, as we stand on an observation platform overlooking the ruins of Chan Chan, we can see the ruins of the successive ciudadelas.

Living in an area with little rain, the Chimus constructed a series of canals to transport water from the Andes. They also built sunken gardens to attract water to their crops, a system still used in local farming today. In addition to their engineering skills, the Chimus were also artisans. Visiting the Chan Chan museum, we can see examples of their skill with gold, ceramics, weaving, and pottery.

When the Incas finally conquered Chan Chan in the early 15th century, they transferred most of the wealth to their own capital, Cuzco. Around 1470, Francisco Pizarro, the conquistador, reached Chan Chan, looking for gold and treasures. He removed much of what the Incas left. As the centuries passed, grave robbers continued the job of looting. Although little of the riches remain, most of the city’s walls are intact today, along with the friezes, and great plazas—a tribute to the architectural and engineering capabilities of the Chimu people.

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