The city of Trujillo, close to the sea in the hot desert coastal strip of Peru, is not vastly interesting in itself, although it does have a few old buildings and some amusingly decorated casinos. Its appeal lies in two extensive archaeological sites a few kilometres from the centre of town. Only one of these is UNESCO listed but both are equally impressive.
The first of the two, and the one that is a world heritage site, is Chan Chan. The capital of the Chimu Kingdom and occupied from the ninth to the fifteenth century is was “the largest earthen architecture city in pre-Columbian America”.
Being built of adobe it is of course very vulnerable to the elements and those parts that have not been restored look a lot like rough piles of earth. It is on UNESCO’s list of sites in danger having suffered a great deal from recent El Niño rains. To protect the walls, most have roofs erected over them, which makes it hard to picture the original appearance of the city, although the presence of interpretive models in perspex domes dotted around the site does help.
The city was once twenty square kilometres in area and occupied a once fertile plain between two rivers, which the inhabitants irrigated with an extensive network of canals. The main part of the site occupies around a third of that area and contains nine separate ‘palaces’ each contained within a high wall. The restored one is the one you get to visit.
Inside the walls are decorated with wonderful relief designs, including geometric patterns and animal designs. Some of these have helpful little signs in front of them saying ‘replica’ although I wasn’t clear if any of them actually were original.
The palace, also referred to as a citadel, has large ceremonial courtyards, religious sanctuaries, storerooms, tombs, residential areas and lots of long maze-like corridors. At the centre is a large sunken reservoir fed by groundwater and half full of reeds.
Some distance from the main site and both now engulfed by the modern city are two small vaguely pyramidal ‘temples’ called Huaca Iris and Huaca Esmeralda. Although I’d taken a local bus out, I accepted the offer of one of the taxi drivers hanging around at the entrance to ferry me to the museum up the road and then these two subsidiary attractions, both of which turned out to be different from the main site and interestingly decorated.
There is not a great deal you can do, Lego-wise, with this site so I settled for a model of the area with the reservoir, where I had spent a happy time sitting on a shaded seat watching the water birds and munching deep-fried broad bean snacks.