Chan Chan

After a long overnight bus journey from Chachapoyas, I arrived in Trujillo and managed to check into the small hotel I’m staying in with enough time to line up an afternoon trip to one of the main sites here, Chan Chan.

The two main cultures of interest in this area are the Moche, from around 200AD to around 750AD and the Chimu, from around 800AD until the arrival of the Incas around 1470. I’ve come across the Moche before when I visited the museum and site of el Senor de Sipan near Chiclayo (“Peru’s answer to Tutankhamun”). The Moche are also the civilisation with the really good ceramics…….

Chan Chan was the capital of the Chimu civilisation, which followed the Moche, and is the largest adobe city in the world (originally around 28 square kilometres). One reason it’s so big is that each governor (/emperor) had his own big palace compound. When he died, he’d be buried in it, the compound would be sealed off, and another compound built for the next governor. There are ten such compounds at Chan Chan, although you can only visit one of them. Here’s the layout of the compound we saw (the non mud-couloured bit was a big pond for collecting ground-water):


Most people I’ve met seem to have found Chan Chan quite disappointing, and the reason is evident as soon as you arrive. Whilst the guides (as usual in these situations) insist that the compound has been “restored” it’s pretty clear that most of it has been rebuilt. The rest of the archaeological site (including the other 9 compounds) looks like an oversized kids’ sandpit:


I think that you just have to take it as it is, accept that most of it is pretty fake, but see that it does at least help you to imagine what the place would have looked like a thousand years ago……..

This is in one of the plazas within the compound (there was a larger one for public events and a smaller one for events restricted to the elite):


Part of the interior:


This area has lots and lots of little store rooms that were used to store the goods brought as tribute by the surrounding population:


This is the area where the governor’s body would lie in state when he died, and behind, the funerary mound in which he’d then be buried. The second picture is from the funerary mound, looking down into where the grave would have been.



There is no bling to be seen at Chan Chan as it had been thoroughly looted by the Spanish. From the reconstruction in the museum, the Chimu governors don’t seem to have dressed too differently from the earlier Moche governors (think Lord of Sipan) and also didn’t walk anywhere (they were carried on a litter – apparently one of the reasons they only tended to live until their mid 40s was that they ended up with arthritis and osteoporosis as a result).


On the way back into Trujillo we stopped off at the seaside resort on Huanchaco. It wasn’t particularly exciting but I did see a fisherman on a traditional raft boat (a “caballito”, made from reeds) messing with his nets (being “helped” by some pelicans) and a booby, which I’ve looked up online – you’ll never guess, it’s called a Peruvian Booby……




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