Trujillo, Peru (2019)
(Note: This is being uploaded from Antarctica. When we were here in 2012 there was no internet in Antarctica, but its been much better this time so we will give it a try.)
We arrived on the morning of January 14 at Salaverry, the port for the city of Trujillo. It was a gray day & Salaverry seemed a pretty gray place.
Trujillo was one of the first Spanish towns in this area, founded in 1534 on the orders of Francisco Pizarro. It is named after his home town in Spain. But before that this area was home to several indigenous civilizations, archaeologists having found artifacts dating back some 7,000 years. Today we visited two of the most important archaeological sites as well as the city of Trujillo itself. We visited these sites the last time we were here, in 2012, and you can see that visit here:
Our first visit today was to the center of the Moche culture that thrived in this area from 100 to 750 AD. Named after the Moche river that runs through here, the Moche people left us some amazingly sophisticated ceramic art. They worshipped the sun, were not warlike, and developed irrigation to the point of being able to support a sizable culture in an area with very little rainfall.
The Moche capital was situated between two large temples at the base of a volcanic mountain called Cerro Blanco.
Our first stop was at Huaca del Sol (temple of the sun). In its heyday this was the largest adobe building in the Americas, built up in layers over the years with some 1.3 million adobe bricks. Today it is only about a third of its original size because the Spaniards diverted the river to intentionally erode the temple in the hope that gold and silver items would be uncovered. They weren’t, but most of this huge building is now gone anyway.
Huaca del Sol has not been excavated yet so all we had was an outside view. We proceeded across a large open space that was once the city to Huaca de la Luna, another temple that has been extensively excavated. From there we had a nice view of Huaca del Sol with the city of Trujillo in the distance behind it.
Our guide explained that the Moche people built their temples in layers. If the current layer was damaged by earthquake or the elements they would cover it up with mud (adobe) then build a new temple on top of it. The adobe bricks have makers’ marks on them indicating which village produced them and there are vertical lines between sections containing different villages’ bricks.
The first area we came to was the site of human sacrifices. A pile of huge boulders moved down from the mountain above was where the victims were killed, then thrown down to the ground below. A number of skeletons have been discovered here. Nearby is a spot where the priest would stand on a platform with the sacrificial victim kneeling on a raised stone below. We aren’t sure whether they were killed there or a ceremony preliminary to sacrifice on the rocks was conducted here.
Inside were some walls containing amazingly well preserved colorful decoration. Several include the face of their primary god, Ayapec, nicknamed “the decapitator” by archaeologists because he is often depicted holding a blade in one hand and a severed head in the other. Rick thinks he looks a little like Homer Simpson, dressed up for Halloween with fake hair and teeth. Note that the colors in these and many of the other pictures from Huaca de la Luna are a little more faded in real life than depicted here.
We walked up to the top of the Huaca, where we passed a platform where the king would hold court, then down into the largest courtyard with two huge walls decorated with murals. On the largest wall the murals are in several layers. All of this artwork survives because the Moche later covered it up when expanding the temple.
The bottom layer of the wall paintings depicts the sacrifice victims, roped together at the neck, being led to the place of sacrifice. Sacrificial victims were selected through ceremonial mock combat in which the object was to seize the opponent’s helmet rather than to kill him. The losers would be sacrificed, but the Moche may have viewed the losers as the real winners because they were at the center of an important ceremony while the winners were barred from the premises while it took place. The second row probably depicts priests holding hands for some ceremony, perhaps a dance.
Above the dancing priests, on the third level, is a series of spiders, many with a head on each side. Above them are a series of depictions of the decapitator god holding a head in one hand and a blade in the other, and above that is a series of pictures of a mythical beast, half reptile and half feline. Above that are serpents. The last three are not in good enough shape for a lay person to recognize.
On the left side is a wall that looks like a gate (it’s not) called the Mural of the Myths. It is a very complicated jumble of symbols, looking perhaps a little like something by Hieronymus Bosch. We don’t know what most of this represents, but our guide pointed out an image of a headless body being pecked by a bird that we think has something to do with human sacrifice.
Leaving the Huacas we drove into town for a (too) quick visit to the Plaza des Armes. Every town in South America has a Plaza de Armas in the center, so called (we think) because this is where the soldiers or militia trained. Trujillo was the first town in Peru to declare independence from Spain, in December of 1820, and in the center of the plaza is a large monument to that erected on the 100th anniversary. The sculpture at the top had to be altered immediately after being installed. The legs were shortened a bit to make it balance better atop its tall plinth, and the ladies of Trujillo objected to the statue’s uncovered sex organs so they were removed (ouch!). The plaza is nicely landscaped with bright flowers.
Trujillo’s bright yellow cathedral was built in the mid 17th century. The façade is very nice and unusually simple but unfortunately we did not have a chance to go inside. On the other side of the Plaza was a house with a particularly striking wood porch on the second floor.
We had a tour of one of the old houses that line the square (we would have preferred the cathedral). Casa Urquiaga was built in the 18th or early 19th century, as were most of the old houses on the Plaza. Simon Bolivar stayed here in 1824 when conducting his campaign in support of Peruvian independence from Spain. The desk he used to write his declaration of Peruvian independence is still on display in this house. The house has several courtyards and a lot of period furniture, if you like that sort of thing.
After visiting the case we left the Plaza de Armas to head for our next stop.
Chan Chan was the largest pre-Columbian city in South America. The Chimu people who built it as the capital of an empire that stretched along the Peruvian coast may have arisen from the remnants of the Moche civilization that collapsed (for unknown reasons) about 100 years before they appeared. Beginning around 900 AD the Chimu empire lasted until they were defeated by the Incas in the 1470’s, only some 60 years before the Spaniards arrived. We hear mostly about the Incas ruling this part of South America, but their empire really lasted less than 150 years altogether before being destroyed by the Spanish led by Francisco Pizarro.
Chan Chan was a bustling city of 60,000 to 100,000 at its zenith, spreading out for about 5 square miles. It was built entirely of adobe with 60 foot walls. The Chimu were a sea-going people and their walls are decorated with stylized representations of fishing nets, sea waves, fish and other wildlife.
We visited an excavated complex called Nik-An. While Chan Chan was a living city when the Spanish arrived it faded after the establishment of Trujillo. Archaeological excavation began in the 1960’s and a good deal of imaginative but unrestrained “restoration” ensued. While archaeology is conducted much more carefully today, it is difficult for the lay visitor to tell what is original and what is modern reconstruction. Still, according to our guide, must of what is in Nik-An is real.
The main area is where the king received delegations from across his empire who provided the food and other materials needed to support this large city. The king was thought to have access to the gods, so delegations bearing offerings were frequent to ensure that the gods looked favorably on these outlying areas. The walls in this area were originally about 35 feet high, and there are niches in them that look like benches but were actually shrines containing statues of divine beings.
One reason that so much of Chan Chan still stands is the method of building walls they developed to withstand earthquakes. While the walls are covered with smooth finishes, inside is a pattern of adobe bricks with spaces built in to allow some movement without destruction of the wall. Around the palace complex are the remains of numerous storehouses where the food brought by the delegations was kept.
As we left Chan Chan we came across a sleeping Peruvian hairless dog, a breed that goes back at least as far as the Moche civilization and is today the only recognized breed of Peruvian origin. They have hair only on their tails and heads (looking like a Mohawk). Not the most beautiful dogs we have ever seen!
Our last stop of the day was at Huanchaco Beach, a popular surfing spot that 50 years ago was a small fishing village. For some 3,000 years fishermen here have been plying their trade on “caballitos de totora,” small boats made of reeds. The fisherman sits on top of the boat, rather than inside it, similar to riding a horse (thence the name). Two people man the boats, one in front to paddle and one in the seat in back to manipulate the fishing nets and gather the fish into the boat. The boats are built by the fishermen and last 6 to 9 months, from what we were told.
Across the street from the beach we had lunch in a very good restaurant called El Sombrero, serving a nice local beer called Cusquena. Rick had roast cabrito (kid), which we haven’t eaten since our honeymoon in Monterey, Mexico, and Mary had prawns & rice. We sat at the edge of the veranda with a fine view of the water and the stacked caballitos on the beach.
We drove back to the ship, passing a huge Moche-looking sculpture in a traffic circle. Then, after a final look at the birds and boats at the port, we sailed away toward Lima.