Chan Chan was the royal capital of the Kingdom of Chimor that encompassed most of Peru‘s northern and coastal region in A.D. 1000 and 1450. It is situated in the desert region of Peru that gets its water from the run-off rivers of the Andes for agriculture. The ancient structures of Chan Chan face severe problems of erosion, flooding, and strong winds; however, humongous palace complexes which have relief work on their walls are still in good condition. 

The area of Chan Chan was 20 sq. km and had a population of 40,000 people that made it the largest city in the Andes.

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The Extraordinary Town Planning of Chan Chan_©googleusercontent.com

Architecture

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Endagered Site Chan Chan_©worldhistory.org
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General plan of Ciudadela Rivero_©ascweb.org

The city was built with a strong political and social divide. There are 10 large rectangular complexes which are surrounded by 10 meter high walls built in adobe (mud bricks). These complexes are known as citadels or palaces. These complexes are 6 sq. km in area and include temples, reservoirs, dwellings, storehouses, and funeral platforms. T-shaped tombs had leaders buried in them, and smaller tombs were used to bury their family and entourage. 

Outskirts of the city had two large pyramids known as the Huaca el Dragon and Huaca Tacaynamo. The entrances to the palaces are guarded by two standing statues set in niches. The walls are decorated with designs of animals and humans. Some of the walls have marine animals carved that represent the importance of water in Chan Chan. 

Housing for the lower class had smaller rooms and these spaces were occasionally used to conduct workshops. The size of the citadels shows the large ratio of labour, the spatial differentiation implies a ranking system, and the large storage spaces imply the centralized control of the economy. It would be difficult for an outsider to navigate the city; thus, the town planning of Chan Chan provided security in addition to the presence of the guards.

Art and Culture

Clothing

The tunics of the Chimu Empire were varied in quality and design. They were made by tying rows of trimmed feathers to a plain cloth backing. The King wore the most luxurious piece of clothing with minute detailing and an expensive article of clothing that could distinguish him from the rest. The general public wore plain tunics, and the elites wore more elaborate creations.

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Chimú tunic with fringed hem and bird design, 1300–1470, Peru, camelid fiber, cotton, 49.5 x 113 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)_©khanacademy.org

Whistling Pots

The pots were made such that they created a whistling sound when water was poured into the pot. These pots were not painted and were solely made up of modelled form and surface textures. Kilns were used to fire the pots and turn the iron compound black due to lack of oxygen.

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Chimú whistling jar, 1000–1476, Peru, mold-form clay, 16 x 9.5 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)_©khanacademy.org

Symbols

The metalsmith of the civilization made different types of objects. The rings shown in the picture are assumed to be a possession of a wealthy and noble person. It shows a man who has a feather fan in his hand and is carried by other people. The rulers also had silver ceramic vessels.

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Pair of Chimú earspools, 12th–15th century, Peru, gold, 13.5 cm in diameter (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)_©khanacademy.org

Jewellery

The Chan Chan civilization had not only metal and beads of precious stone but also shells that were used to make authentic jewellery. The jewellery worn by the kings was creatively crafted.

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Chimú beaded wrist ornament, 14th–15th century, Peru, shell, cotton, 15.3 cm long (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)_©khanacademy.org

World Heritage Site

The site was excavated first in the 1960s, and there are many parts of Chan Chan yet to be discovered. The city was added to the Endangered World Heritage list, and a global initiative was inaugurated to conserve it. The local branch of the Peruvian Ministry of Culture has taken concrete steps to protect the archaeological site that included installing protective roof coverings, ensuring ancient drainage systems are clear of debris, and designing new ways of drainage when needed. 

The site is exploited by the locals and visitors who drop garbage in the restricted zones. It is noted that around 10 tons of waste are removed from the site that includes plastic bottles, glass, metals, etc. Another severe threat to the city is climatic change.

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The reliefs on the smaller huacas are more elaborate, indicating ceremonial purposes._©worldhistory.org

The Decline of Chan Chan 

As the Chimor King was supremely wealthy, the citadels of Chan Chan were looted mercilessly by the Inka that marked the fall of the Chimu Empire around 1470. The artists and artisans were relocated to Cuzco to control the production of goods and limit their resources.

Though the city had an organized civilization and any water damage to the adobe structures would have been repaired immediately, the city is at risk of washing away. Threatened by extreme climatic changes like soil erosion, changes in rainfall, and drought due to El Niño events. El Niño caused increased precipitation and flooding on the Peruvian coast. 

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The roof protected interior of the monument._©worldhistory.org

The site is now popular for its tourism, and excavations continue for further archaeological findings. The locals are working hard to preserve the city. Traditional and modern techniques are used to conserve the site with reinforcement and stabilization of prime structures. It is important to document and preserve the site to understand the challenges it faces and conserve it for future generations.

References

ascpro0.ascweb.org. (n.d.). Contributions of Construction Professionals to Archaeology. [online] Available at: http://ascpro0.ascweb.org/archives/cd/2006/2006pro/2006/CPGT02_Smailes06_1600.htm [Accessed 1 Jul. 2021].

Introduction to the Chimú culture (2018). Introduction to the Chimú culture. [online] Khan Academy. Available at: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-americas/south-america-early/chim-culture/a/introduction-to-the-chim-culture.

Nationalparks-worldwide.com. (2021). [online] Available at: https://www.nationalparks-worldwide.com/sam/peru/culture/chan-chan/chan-chan-city-foundations_small.jpg [Accessed 2 Jul. 2021].

World History Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Chan Chan. [online] Available at: https://www.worldhistory.org/Chan_Chan/. 

Author

Smriti considers Architecture to be an expression of art and is on the road of building many such expressions for the world to experience. She is passionate and motivated to explore the countless angles of architecture design and media. She stays positive and loves to travel.

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