Chan Chan Citadel in Trujillo

Chan Chan Citadel in Trujillo

28 July 2023

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO, finally gave Chan Chan the visibility it deserved: the pre-Columbian adobe city was included in the World Heritage List. Thus, the history of the largest mud citadel in Latin America began to be claimed, although it began a long, long time ago.


Between the years 600 and 700, on the northern coast of Peru, models of cities arose that did not share the main similarities of other towns. This avant-garde style was imposed by the Chimú Kingdom, in charge of giving life to the city of Chan Chan. Composed of nine small citadels whose streets and narrow passageways lead to wide squares, terraces and truncated pyramids, revealing the remarkable degree of planning of the Chimú.


This set of buildings was the capital of the Chimú kingdom, a state organization that depended on the Chimú culture, and its walls are made entirely of adobe (mud mass composed of clay and sand, mixed with straw and dried in the sun) in its entirety. In these buildings, the members of the Chimú culture demonstrated their ability for constructions (with their formidable engravings, bas-reliefs and details that can be witnessed to date), in addition to being ahead of their time due to the quality and finish in their preparation. of textiles and stand out in the creation of metallurgical articles.


Currently, the archaeological site that makes up the city of Chan Chan has an approximate size of about 20 square kilometers, in which we can find walled complexes, which are considered palaces, in the entire extension of the metropolis. The houses of Chayhuac, Pequeña, Nueva, del Centro, Este, Oeste, Grande, del Norte, del Mar and de las Aves are the ones you can find on your visit to this adobe city. Also, rooms were found in which domestic activities such as the use of fulling mills, stoves and ceramics were practiced; in addition to more than 140 water wells that supplied the entire population.


And many will wonder, why is it called Chan Chan? The most used hypothesis that is handled, is that the translation into Spanish from the quingnam (language of the Chimúes) would be that of 'Great Sun' or 'Splendorous Sun', due to the intense solar exposure to which the city of Chan Chan.


Nowadays, getting to the city of Chan Chan is quite simple. The first thing will be to move to the region of La Libertad, in the north of Peru, which you can access by flight from the Jorge Chávez International Airport, located in Lima, the Peruvian capital. The journey is approximately one hour. Transportation from Trujillo to Chan Chan will take you about 20 minutes and you can access it by bus or private car. Once you are there, all you have to do is admire and enjoy the vestiges of this ancient northern society.


And if you allow us to give you some extra advice, venture into a gastronomic route and try the delicious food from Libertad: the stews will delight your palate with unique flavors and dishes. A good northern-style ceviche, which is usually accompanied with shellfish, or the classic Shambar, a succulent soup of menestras and smoked ham, are two of the dishes that you cannot miss trying.


History of the Chimú culture and the citadel of Chan Chan

The Chimú culture was one of the most important in the entire history of Peru. It settled on the north coast of the country between the years 1000 and 1470 and at its height it expanded from Lima to the border with Ecuador. His territory was vast!


The Chimú were great masters of textiles, ceramics, metallurgy and goldsmithing, but above all their architectural work is known. Although everything that the Chimú built and created has an incomparable value, it is inevitable to highlight the masterpiece of this culture: the citadel of Chan Chan.


Chan Chan stands out for one main characteristic: being the largest adobe citadel in America. And it is that this place occupies nothing more and nothing less than 20 square kilometers.


But what you will find in these archaeological ruins is much more. Chan Chan has hundreds of stories waiting to be told, each detail of this construction has a meaning that will make you know the thought of the Chimú culture.


The importance of Chan Chan in the Chimú era is undeniable: this place was considered the capital of the entire kingdom and the great Chimú, the highest ruler of this culture, resided here.


Chan Chan was made up of a total of ten citadels, among which were more than 100,000 workshops, pyramidal temples, streets, and walls. It is estimated that between 60,000 and 100,000 people lived in this labyrinthine framework. Can you imagine what it would be like to walk through its streets?


The walls of Chan Chan are a marvel to behold: all of them are delicately decorated with high reliefs showing everyday things of the Chimú culture, especially related to nature: waves, birds, fish...


The Chimús reigned with great power from this place and also used its surroundings for day-to-day activities and sacrificial rituals. In fact, in 2018, just a few kilometers from Chan Chan, a group of archaeologists discovered 140 skeletons of children and 200 of baby llamas from what is believed to be the largest known child sacrifice in all of history.


But its successful culture could not last forever: with the arrival of the Incas its decline would begin. In 1470 the Inca Túpac Yupanqui arrived with his troops at the citadel of Chan Chan and, after several confrontations, besieged the place, destroying the tunnels that supplied water to the entire city.


Thus, little by little the population of the citadel of Chan Chan was reduced to only 10,000 people. 30 years after the arrival of Túpac Yupanqui, the few surviving Chimús rebelled against the Incas, but their power was much higher, so this rebellion was the end point of the creative culture of Chan Chan.


With the arrival of the conquest, the Spanish attacked Chan Chan and looted it, since they thought that a great treasure of gold and silver was hidden here.


But the legacy of the Chimú culture remained forever in Peru and it is suspected that much remains to be discovered about the citadel of Chan Chan. In fact, just two years ago, in October 2018, the experts working in this large complex found the most recent discovery: 19 idols carved in wood with a ceramic mask, which are believed to have the function of protecting a particular area of this place.


The great secrets and the incredible architecture of the citadel of Chan Chan attract thousands of people every day. The importance of this place is such that UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site in 1986.


How to get to the citadel of Chan Chan?

The citadel of Chan Chan is located just 5 kilometers from the center of Trujillo, making it a place that can be easily reached. To do this, you will have to take a bus in the direction of Huanchaco and ask the driver to notify you at the nearest stop to Chan Chan. You can also do this tour by taxi, a good option if you travel with more people with whom you can share this means of transport.


If you prefer to do it with an organized excursion, in Denomades we have the Chan Chan Archaeological Complex tour, in which we will not only visit this citadel, but we will also make a stop at the Huaca El Dragón or Huaca Arcoíris, another of the great tourist attractions of Trujillo. You can also hire the Archaeological and Huanchaco Tour, where in addition to getting to know Chan Chan, you visit Huanchaco beach and the huacas del Sol y la Luna. All this, as always, in the company of one of our guides who will tell you all the details of each place and who you can consult with each of your doubts.


Prices and hours of the citadel of Chan Chan

  • Hours: Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Price: general admission is S/ 11 (just over 3 dollars) and there are discounts for seniors, children and students.
  • Guided tour: the citadel of Chan Chan can be visited for free, but we recommend that you always do it with a guide, since the place makes much more sense when they tell you everything that happened here and the meaning of each one of its constructions and symbology. The price of this service is around S/ 40 (12 dollars) per group.

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Once you decide to visit Palccoyo Mountain, you could add the best destinations to combine the history and experience for your trip to Peru. Peru offers the most beautiful destinations, culture and naturals. we recommend to extend your holidays and choose these best destinations and prepare your itinerary:

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