Chan Chan was the capital of the pre-Columbian Chimú Empire and one of the largest cities in the world at the time. It was built around 1300 and was conquered by the Inca in the 15th century. The ruined city covers an area of 28 km². It originally consisted of nine autonomous districts, each ruled by a ruler. The ruined city, built from adobe bricks, has been on the Red List of World Heritage since 1986.
Chan Chan Ruined City: Facts
|Official title:||Chan Chan ruined city|
|Cultural monument:||Formerly the capital of the Chimú empire with 9 independent so-called “citadels”, also known as “palaces” – according to Palacio Tschudi – also with platforms, so-called “Huacas”, such as the Huaca El Olvido, presumably cult sites; Today only ruins with 7 m high and almost 1 km long walls, extension of the ruined city to 18 km²|
|Location:||Chan Chan, north of Lima and Trujillo|
|Appointment:||1988 and at the same time entry in the red list of endangered world heritage|
|Meaning:||the largest planned urban complex from pre-Columbian times|
Chan Chan Ruined City: History
|900-1000||Breakup of the Huari Empire|
|1465-70||Conquest of Chan Chan by the Incas under Tupac Yupanqui|
|1535||near Chan Chan Foundation of the Spanish colonial city of Trujillo|
The capital of the oasis kings
According to a2zgov, hundreds of kilometers north of the Peruvian capital, one of the largest urban complexes of pre-Hispanic America can be found directly on the Pacific coast: Chan Chan, from the 11th to the 15th centuries the capital of the Chimú empire, whose ruler shortly before it was subjugated by the Inca who had conquered the river oases of the northern Peruvian coastal desert from the extreme north to almost the area around today’s Lima.
The rural population of this large state operated an extremely profitable irrigation field economy. Different types of beans, pumpkins, maize, tropical fruits, but also cotton for textile production thrived in the valleys. A cold Antarctic ocean current off the coast not only caused the moist sea air brought to the coast by the westerly winds to rain down off the coast, but also led to rich plankton formation, an inexhaustible source of food for various fish species, which in turn attracted huge schools of sea birds and plus large marine mammals such as sea lions, dolphins and whales. By means of large rush boats as well as the use of load rafts it was possible to exploit these food reserves and to conduct long-distance trade.
With an estimated 100,000 residents, Chan Chan was without a doubt the largest Chimú settlement. The huge mud brick walls around the quarters of the ruling families are still impressive today. Its interior – divided into squares, storehouses and residential quarters with fountains, so-called “sunken gardens” and a mausoleum for the founder of the family – surprises with the planned monumentality. The bulk of the population, the lower civil servants of the state and the majority of the craftsmen, however, lived in far simpler dwellings, which were built rather unplanned on the side of the large palace complexes. Their huts consisted of a frame structure made of crippled tree trunks, and the living and working rooms were only poorly protected from the sun by cane mats.
However, the mud brick walls visible today only allow a limited idea of the former urban pomp: the monumental buildings were decorated with stucco reliefs in color, the walls were covered over and over with colored depictions of sea birds and fish, sometimes with abstract compositions reminiscent of textile patterns as well as with mythological scenes – an artificial, extremely colorful world in the middle of the gray-brown desert. The cityscape was made even more colorful by the splendid robes and the multi-colored head-feather decorations of the residents.
One of the main problems with the city’s layout was the water supply. This problem was solved on the one hand by using large deep wells to reach the groundwater level, which the residents could reach via a kind of spiral staircase at the edge of the well, and on the other hand by bringing water to the city through aqueducts and irrigation canals from valleys more than 50 kilometers away.
Water was also the reason for the Inca subjugation of the Chimú. They could not conquer the walls of Chan Chan, but Minchanzaman, the last ruler of the Chimú empire, and his subjects had to surrender to the Inca generals after they had simply cut off the city’s water supply.
Because of the low resistance of the bricks used, which are exposed to the effects of the weather and the high groundwater level, Chan Chan was also placed on the Red List of World Heritage in Danger.