Chan Chan is in Northern Peru, close to Trujillo and is the capital of the Chimu empire. Chan Chan means "Sun Sun" it is an enormous mud-brick settlement and is the largest pre-Colombian city in South America.
Reaching nearly 20 square kilometres, with a city center of 6km, during its most active period in 1200 AD it housed almost 100,000 people. A later civilization that grew from the Moches, this adobe city was created in 850 AD and thrived until being conquered by the Inca in 1470AD; however, it was only discovered recently with archaeologists working carefully to uncover the city of the Chimu kings, which is threatened by El Niño related flooding and tornados. In fact fertile ground which made it made a good settlement is the same reason there is such a high risk to losing it.
The Chimu displayed their beliefs for all to see in the city of Chan Chan. Its great walls display the devotion to the ocean and mythological reliefs are prominent throughout.
The Chimu were not monotheists, but unlike the Inca they did not worship the sun but in fact the moon. While the sun fuelled the harsh desert-like environment they worked so hard to cultivate to make fertile, the Chimu knew there was a relationship between the moon and the sea – the provider of life. For this reason there were offerings to the moon. Most often these were fruit, chicha, animals and birds but at times the Chimu also offered their children in hopes they would also become a god.
Walking through the adobe city, the life of the Chimu is depicted in bas-reliefs with shapes of sea creatures, fishing tools and scenes from the water. Waves and aquatic life are found throughout with sea otter- like animals, pelicans, numerous fish and shellfish.
With such a close relationship to the sea, it can be found throughout the graphic storytelling on its walls. The sea itself, called Ni, was the center of all life for the Chimu as they depended on it for food. In Chimu life the whale and the otter were both sacred animals. The sea lion also played a special role as they believed the animal would accompany the dead as they passed on to the afterlife.
Agriculture and Irrigation What is most impressive about Chan Chan is that this enormous ancient city was complete with a water management system to support industrial and agricultural operations. An 80 kilometre canal was created using the Moche and Chicama rivers and is the reason the city was able to grow so large.
These canals increased the fertility of the city, allowing more land to be used and the city to expand in the previously hostile environment.
Living in Chan Chan
This adobe city was built from mud and in any other climate it would have failed, but the desert air created a solid structure that remains to this day.
The city is not only impressive for its structure of materials but also a formal layout that reflects social and political values. A triangular city, it is composed of ten citadels with some walls of the Chan Chan site reaching over 50 feet.
The wealthiest lived closest to the centre while most of the population lived outside and may not have been able to enter the core of the city. The 12,000 artists that decorated all of the walls lived in a group of structures that were smaller than the nobles but more complex than the huts commoners lived in.
Chan Chan Today
One of the many UNESCO heritage sites found in South America, the Peruvian Government approved a plan in 1998 for conservarion and management of the complex with support from the World Heritage Foundation - WHR, ICCROM and GCI.