When we think of mud we're usually reminded of bad, rainy weather, mud wrestling or even mud baths, but...GREAT CITIES? The city of Chan Chan here in Peru is the largest adobe, or mud city, in the world! It was also the capital city of the Chimu Empire, which controlled the entire coastal region of Peru stretching from the northern border town of Tumbes down to Lima.
Chan Chan was built over time, beginning about 900 AD, until it was taken over by the Inca in the late fifteenth century. During those six hundred years the Chimu built at least nine palaces in honor of their kings. Even more palaces were probably built, but then destroyed by war. When a king died, his eldest son would take over and become the new king. The old palaces would remain intact but would function only as tombs or temples while the city leaders would move on to a newly built palace for the next king. The new king only inherited power, but none of the old king's possessions, so in addition to building himself a new palace, the next ruler had to go out and conquer more people to obtain gold for himself. At the height of the Chimu Empire, there were as many as 50,000 inhabitants in Chan Chan, and countless gold, silver, and ceramic treasures were created in the region.
As we entered the ceremonial square, we noticed a symmetrical design that looked like two inverted sets of stairs carved out of the wall. For the Chimu this was a sign of the power and authority of the king. There were also other designs which showed that the environment was very important to the Chimu, including a sea otter. There are no more sea otters around here, and the Chimu knew it was becoming extinct, so it was very important to them as well as other fish, birds and symbols that represented tides and fisherman's nets.
The moon held special religious significance for the Chimu. Their principal god was the god of the moon called Si. Eclipses of the sun were celebrated as the triumph of the moon over the sun, whereas lunar eclipses were associated with sad events such as death. Inside the Tschudi Palace there was an enormous pool or reservoir, which drew water from a spring under the ground. The Chimu may have used this pool to honor the moon, its reflection could clearly be seen in the water. With the sun beating down on me, I kept wishing the pool were still filled with water for me to swim in. There was also a religious square for tributes to the moon in which idols and other offerings were left.
On a grislier note, just like in the Moche culture, servants and concubines were sacrificed in honor of the king's death and buried along with him. Sometimes these poor folks were also sacrificed to the gods. Many were decapitated with the use of the tumi, or ceremonial knife, but others were poisoned, and buried alive, after which they would suffocate to death. About 80% of the people who were sacrificed were women.
No one knows exactly how Chan Chan lost its importance in this area after the Incas conquered the Chimu around 1470. Apparently, Chimu King Minchancaman retained symbolic power but was moved to Cuzco along with many of the imperial artisans, which allowed the Inca to take over Chan Chan peacefully. However, the people of Chimu increasingly resented the occupation until a major Chimu revolt occurred about twenty years later, at which time the city was strategically abandoned by the Inca. The Chimu eventually dispersed or were incorporated into the Inca Empire.
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