Trujillo, Peru and a vist to Chan Chan

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Chan Chan, seat of the Chimu civilization that predated the Incas in Peru.

Today we are docked in Salaverry Peru, a small port town, the gateway to Trujillo.  Known as the “City of Eternal Spring”, Trujillo is a 16th-century Spanish colonial city.  Boris most wanted to see Chan Chan, “a pre-Colombian city and archaeological site near Trujillo on northern Peru’s desert coast. It was the seat of the ancient Chimú civilization before it fell to the Incas. The vast adobe complex has citadels, including the partially restored Tschudi Palace. It also encompasses temples, plazas and cemeteries. The Museo de Sitio Chan Chan displays stone artifacts, ceramics and history exhibits.” ― Google

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Chan Chan near Trujillo, Peru

Choosing an excursion for Boris and I is always about compromise and priorities.  Chan Chan sounded amazing, but I was most concerned about the cruise line’s designation of this visit as strenuous, their category for the most difficult activities.  Boris has had one of his feet completely reconstructed and I have had two foot surgeries.  We said we would give it a try.  There was actually no need to worry.  The area was mostly flat.  While there was a lot of walking, we were blessed with an overcast day rather than direct sun.  I took my walking sticks, but didn’t need them.

Photo ©Jean Janssen At the museum at the Chan Chan visitors center we saw a model of the vast complex that made up the area during the height of the Chimu civilization in Peru.

The Chimus covered a vast area of coastal Peru between Lima and the border with Ecuador.  The culture prevailed from about 1000 to 1470.  They were masters of textiles, ceramics, metallurgy, and goldsmithing.  The 10 citadels of Chan Chan, the city of power for the Chimus, covered about 20 km.  Their empire stretched for 1000 miles.  Chan Chan is the largest abode citadel in America.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Amazing carvings at Chan Chan, Trujillo, Peru

“The complex contained 100,000 workshops, pyramidal temples, streets, and walls. It is estimated that between 60,000 and 100,000 people lived in this labyrinthine framework…The walls of Chan Chan are a marvel to behold: all of them are delicately decorated with high reliefs showing everyday things of the Chimú culture, especially related to nature: waves, birds, fish…” denomads-com.translate

Photo ©Jean Janssen. This chart found in the museum at Chan Chan shows the rulers of the Chimu, Inca, and Spanish leadership of this coastal region of Peru.

The Chimus held the region until 1470 when the Inca conqueror attacked the palace and cut off the water supply.  The Incas dominated the Chimu people, but did not use the coastal region as their base of power and were largely absent.  When the Spanish conquistadors ransacked the citadels looking for gold and silver, they still found Chimus living there, but their culture was largely gone after a failed attempt at rebellion against the Incas.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The archeological museum at Chan Chan, near Trujuillo, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Museum reproductions at Chan Chan.

We started our tour at the small archeological museum on site.  There were photographs of the various stage of excavation and discovery.  It will take decades, maybe centuries, to uncover all the wonders of Chan Chan.  We are only going to visit one of the citadels, the whole archeological site being very vast.  At the museum, we saw some of the principal artifacts recovered, most are in the museum in Trujillo that we will visit later today.  As we exited the museum, we saw a reed boat.  I learned from another guest that these are still used today; they last between 6 and 8 days before they have to be replaced.  That is a lot of work for a short work life, but the materials are free.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Peruvian reed boat
Photo ©Jean Janssen. There is so much more yet uncovered at Chan Chan.

We rode the bus to the citadel we were visiting.  Along the way we could see additional outbuildings yet to be uncovered.  Heading inside, we passed through the entrance hallways with preserved high walls in many places.  These passageways alone were impressive.  They lead us to the large ceremonial courtyard with multiple entrances.  The regular population of the citadel would not be able to venture past this point.  The covering did not survive, although many of the structures we had passed through would actually have been open air.  The citadel set very close to the sea that was visible during our visit.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Fellow guests in the maze of passageways that lead to the ceremonial courtyard. Chan Chan
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Entrance to the ceremonial courtyard.. Chan Chan

The ceremonial courtyard was the first time we saw the abode adorned with beautiful shapes.  It was only a hint of what was to cover.  There was a stage structure in the very center for ceremonies.  In the back center was the raised level the priests and dignitaries would have used. Around the edges, the carvings were of squirrels.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Carvings of squirrels adorn the wall surrounding the ceremonial courtyard at Chan Chan. The lines are believed to represent ocean waves.
Photo ©Jean Janssen Chairs built into the adobe walls at Chan Chan.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. During the Chimu occupation of Chan Chan, the space in the center of the diamond shaped pattern would have been completely open to allow for ventilation.

Behind the courtyard, archeologists have uncovered a series of rooms for higher levels of dignitaries.  Each space has different types of carvings; the variety was impressive.  Some of the rooms have built-in adobe “chairs” suggesting these were spaces that discussions or consultations took place.  The spaces often had walls that sported diamond spaced patterns.  Although filled in now, these would have been open in the center during Chimu occupation to allow for ventilation for the various spaces.  The area is currently open air but covered to preserve the discoveries.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Fabulous carvings adorn the walls at Chan Chan.

Headed further back we came to the large reservoir, now grass filled, that would have served as a cistern during ancient times.  Beyond that was the high altar when sacrifices took place.  In the space of the walls, we saw a repeat of the trapezoid shape that had been so prevalent at Manchu Picchu. [add link to previous post]

Photo ©Jean Janssen. This was the reservoir for the Chan Chan citadel we visited.

We came back through other long passageways and saw the areas that we used as stables and granaries.  Our guide pointed out a corner where you could take a photograph and make it look like you were standing by a pyramid.  It was a lot of walking and we were fortunate that without direct sun it was not too hot.  Make sure to use a lot of sunscreen, wear a hat and comfortable shoes, and carry some water.  This is an absolutely wonderful site.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Chan Chan
Photo ©Jean Janssen. This was one of my favorite patterns adorning the walls at Chan Chan

After our Chan Chan visit, we went to Trujillo to visit the archeological museum.  During our drive we got to see a little of the Spanish colonial town.  I always love the shuttered windows on the balconies that is part of this architectural design.  The buildings were also brightly painted and well maintained on the main square, the Plaza de Armas.  The beautiful Basilica Menor Cathedral also sits at the Plaza.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Trujillo, Peru is full of beautiful, colorful, Spanish Colonial architecture, especially near the Plaza de Armas
Photo ©Jean Janssen. I love the shutter windows on balconies done in Spanish Colonial architecture. This one is in Trujillo, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Basilica Menor Cathedral, Trujillo, Peru

The archeological museum is housed in a Spanish Colonial home from the 16th century.  Inside is a wonderful collection of artifacts from the Moche civilization which dominated in coastal Peru from about 500 to 750 AD.; the Chimus, 1000-1470 AD; and the Incas 1470-1532 AD.  There are various painting and figure displays which show how the settlements of each civilization looks.  Artifacts are arranged by culture and use.  It is not a huge museum, but well done and each of follow.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The archeological museum in Trujillo, Peru is in a former Spanish Colonial home.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Pottery of music and dance of the Moche people of coastal Peru.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Ancient headdress in the archeological museum in Trujillo, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the archeological museum in Trujillo, Peru.

Some of my favorite pieces included the musical pottery, a leather loin cloth adorned with yellow hummingbird feathers, ancient headdresses and an unwrapped mummy that was folded to allow burial in a smaller container.  There was also wonderful ceremonial jewelry.  I highly recommend the museum, especially if you are going to visit archeological sites in the area.  It wrapped up the history nicely.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. A loincloth made with yellow hummingbird feathers in the archeological museum in Trujillo, Peru.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. This unwrapped mummy was in the archeological museum in Trujillo, Peru.

After the Trujillo visit, we made the short drive back to Slaverry and the ship.  Leaving the city, we saw a wonderful mosaic wall depicting the history of this region of Peru. It went on for several blocks. This “Art Galley of Ancient Regional History” was installed in 2010. This is our last stop in Peru.  After a sea day tomorrow, we will be in Ecuador for stops at Guayaguil and Manta.  On to the next country…

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Spotted in Trujillo, Peru. If you don’t have a helmet, a hardhat will have to do.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. A small section in the mosaic wall that is part of the Art Gallery of Ancient Regional History, an exterior installation completed in 2010 in Trujillo, Peru


About travelbynatasha

I am a retired attorney who loves to travel. Several years ago I began working on a Century Club membership achieved by traveling to 100 "foreign" countries. Today, at 49 years of age the count is at 82. Many were visited on land based trips. Some were cruise ports. Some were dive sites. Most have been fascinating.
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