The city of Trujillo is an eight-hour bus ride North of the capital. It took its name from a Spanish city in Extremadura, the birthplace of conqueror Francisco Pizarro. It is nicknamed “City of the eternal spring”, due to its mild climate, as I told you about Medellin.
As almost every city in Peru, the centre is occupied by the Plaza de Armas, that hosts colonial buildings and the cathedral.
Trujillo is a pleasant city, with an air of tradition due to its colonial architecture and the large number of old churches found here. Adding to this atmosphere are the typists who still sit in the streets working with their typewriters in the age of computers. I asked what they were typing and they replied: “a rental contract” ?? 😐
The surroundings of Trujillo house from a surfers beach to two of the most visited pre-Incan ruins: Chan Chan and Huacas del Sol y de la Luna. All that makes Trujillo an unavoidable stop for the minority of travellers who make it to the North of Peru, and don’t limit themselves to the aptly named “gringo trail” in the South.
I stayed in the nice coastal village of Huanchaco, that has a beach and where the coastal breeze makes the heat more bearable. Getting to or from the city centre is easy: there are many “combis” going back and forth and you can hear the conductor crying: <<¡¡Huanchaco!!! ¡¡Anchaco!! ¡¡Chaco!!…¡¡¡Huanchaco!!!>>.
In the middle of the way between Trujillo and Huanchaco lies Chan Chan, the ruins of the capital of the Chimu culture. This huge city is made of adobe brick, and it is the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas and the largest adobe city in the world.
Built around 1300 AD, Chan Chan was conquered by the Incas, who came from Cusco, around 1470 AD. In the century that followed, the Spanish conquerors also came here and looted the city. Efforts to preserve the city have run into difficulties due to the climate pattern of El Niño, that have eroded this adobe brick city. Therefore, what we can see today is only a small part of this once great city.
Centuries before the emergence of the Chimu and the construction of Chan Chan, the Moche culture developed in the same area of Northern Peru, between the years 100 and 700 AD. This culture excelled in pottery making. A major city of this civilisation was constructed between the landmarks of Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna. It is worth going there. It is a bit farther than Chan Chan, but as usual there is also a combi going.
The Huaca del Sol, bigger, is an enormous adobe pyramid which might have had an administrative function. The Huaca de la Luna, smaller but perhaps more important, had a religious purpose, and the main priests and rulers lived inside. The city sprawled between both landmarks, in what is now a deserted space.
The Huaca del Sol was closed to visitors, as archeological works are underway. The visit to Huaca de la Luna is guided, which is good for learning about what happened inside. Here, human sacrificies were carried out. Two warriors fought, and the loser was jailed and sacrificed. When there were droughts, human sacrifices multiplied, in order to soothe the wrath of the gods. Just looking at the representation of these gods is pretty scary. The most important and feared was Ai Apaec, also known as ‘the beheader’. Others came in the shapes of arachnids, serpents, felines, etc.
The end of the Moche civilisation came around the seventh century. There was a long drought and a major El Niño. Despite the increasing sacrifices, priests and rules failed to soothe the god’s wrath and cease flooding. It is possible that the population left were fed up with making so many sacrifices and lost faith on the rulers and the system. Finally, the cities were abandoned.
Although the Incas take all the glory, Peru has seen the development of other equally important civilisations, like the Moche or the Chimu. The Incas only achieved domination of most of the territory in the century prior to the arrival of the Spanish.