Sunday, 16 February 2014

South America: Huaca de la Luna, Peru

Our time in South America began in Lima, Peru, before travelling northwards by bus on to Ecuador. To break the journey we stopped at Trujillo, a city near the coast in northern Peru. Looking at what to do from there, the ruined city of Chan Chan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the most obvious choice.

Location of Trujillo, Peru

We did visit Chan Chan, which in its heyday was the largest Pre-Columbian (before European influence) city in South America, covering 20 km². The adobe (sun-dried mud brick) was constructed by the Chimor (the kingdom of the ChimĂș), a civilization which grew out of the remnants of the Moche civilization, in around AD 850 and lasted until its conquest by the Inca Empire in AD 1470. It was the imperial capital where 30,000 people lived.

This was of course an enjoyable trip, and it was fascinating to learn how much more there is to South American history than the famous Incas. However, while were in Trujillo we also learned about the Huacas del Moche (Huaca del Sol, ‘Pyramid of the Sun’ and Huaca de la Luna, ‘Pyramid of the Moon’) and made a trip out to these too – and I was absolutely astounded by them.

The eastern platform and black rock, sites of human sacrifice. With Cerro Blanco in the background.

We travelled out there by local bus – I always find local transport to be a huge part of the travel experience. On arrival, we first went into the museum, which exhibited many artefacts from different eras at the site, with a good many explanations written out in English. The great thing about the write-ups was that rather than a dry, brief mention of what an artefact was, there were also pretty good narrative explanations about aspects of life at the time, along with some short explanations about how these conclusions had been drawn from the archaeological findings. All of this was a great introduction to the Huaca itself, giving you a chance to flesh out your imaginings of how the temple may have been used in its day. (No photography is allowed in the museum).

Then came visiting the actual Huaca. Of the two Huacas, The Huaca del Sol was partially destroyed and looted by Spanish conquistadors, and only the Huaca de la Luna has been more excavated and opened to visitors. And wow is it incredible! 

The Moche God Ai apaec (decapitator)

You visit with a guide, which is free but obviously you are invited to tip as you see fit. We had a guide to ourselves and she really was excellent, giving us so much information and displaying a genuine enthusiasm and love for this site.

Built by the Moche civilisation (100-800 AD/CE), the Huaca was constructed in layers – about every 10 years, a new layer would be added to the existing structure, covering the walls and top surface of the previous temple. As well as increasing the size of the temple each time, this led to the remarkable level of preservation of the amazing murals decorating the temple.

Bricks form the huaca

Archaeological findings suggest that the temple had included sections for the burials of the Moche culture’s religious elite and political rulers, as well as having an area that had been used for ritual human sacrifice. 

The Moche civilisation (the name ‘Moche’ is a modern attribution as we have no way of knowing what they called themselves) existed well over 1000 years ago, from 100 AD/CE. This means they predate the more famous Incas by 1300 years, as well lasting almost 7 times as long as the Incas, who were crushed by the Spanish invasion. 

Trying to absorb the scale of this history while looking around at the Huaca really brought a sense of awe and amazement at the significance of the place, and the incredible level of preservation here.

For me, this made it a far more magical place to visit than the reconstructed Chan Chan (which is of course still worth visiting).

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