Chavín de Huántar Archaeological Complex
Cultural World Heritage Site - UNESCO

Also called "Castillo Chavín" (Chavín Castle) or "Templo Chavín" (Chavín Temple), archaeological site located in the district Chavín de Huántar, on the banks of the Mosna River.


To arrive to Chavín de Huántar you have to travel by a road from Huaraz, 74 Km. (46 miles), which leaves from the town of Cátac, located in the south part of the Callejón de Huaylas. This road surrounds the Querococha lagoon and snowy mountains with beautiful landscapes.


This archaeological location was the main religious and cultural center of the Chavín nation and was declared Cultural World Heritage Site by UNESCO (1985).


For reasons not yet totally clear, during the ninth century BC the large temples on the coast were abandoned for good while two centers in the Highlands –probably oracles- gained the devotion of people both from the coast and highlands. They were Kunturwasi in Cajamarca and Chavín, in Ancash.


Chavín de Huantar, located at 3.150 m.a.s.l. in the upper Mosna river valley, is located half way between the coast and the jungle regions, separated from either by two towering mountain ranges. The Old Temple (eighth to third century BC) is particularly well preserved thanks to the semi-quarried stone used to build it. It comprises two pyramid-shaped bodies reclining on each other that were erected on a vast platform system housing a labyrinth of some 14 galleries. The temple's "U" shape was inspired by the sacred architecture of the central coast with a circular plaza in the middle. The main gallery still houses the principal cult image: an obelisk called the Lanzon or great Spear. The New Temple resembles the constructions of its type found on the coast and northern highlands, i.e. a massive truncated pyramid with a rectangular foundation on top of which sit two chapel-like buildings placed along a façade adorned with a figurative portico. The similarities are no coincidence as proven by the offerings placed inside galleries by people who came from a radius of about 800 Km, from Cajamarca to Paracas.


The fierce iconography on the Tello Obelisk – originally standing in one if the squares- gives us a glimpse of Chavín doctrines. It shows two mythical bird-tailed alligators of opposite sex joined in unnatural intercourse whereby they exchange body fluids flowing from their mouths, noses and genitals depicted as serpents. Their hind legs are placed below ground level while the forepaws rise to the sky. Their acolytes -–the jaguar for the male divinity and the fishing eagle for the female deity – suggest the divine couple divides their power between the two confines of the universe: the jungle and the sea. If so, the image was an attempt at explaining the mystery of life and the eternal cyclical exchange of waters between the heavens, earth and the sea.


Another couple of supernatural beings guards the entrance to the New Temple, a portico divided into two equal segments, one light and the other dark, as if evoking the joining of day and night. Both are winged beings and of opposite sex: the male deity is shown as a hawk and the female as an eagle. Different classes of lesser gods are also represented in the Tello Obelisk, and on the plaques decorating the sunken small squares facing the façade, to thus configure a rich pantheon of mythical ancestors. The dual and four-some partitions (couples and groups of four characters in symmetric opposite arrangements) appear again and again as the guiding principles in the sculpted ornamentations.


Judging from its decor and layout, the temple was designed to mimic the universe and conceived as the fruit of the union of two portions of the world, complementary with and opposed to each other: one masculine and the other feminine, in conformance with the principle that guides the beginning of life itself. Each of the parts was in itself made up of two mutually critical halves because each needed its own day and night, its own rainy and dry seasons. Priests of the Old Temple descended inside the building to render tribute to the Great Spear god, lord of the netherworld whom they conceived as a feline man emerging from the dark jungle to drink its victim's blood. On the contrary, the priests of the New Temple climbed to the summit of the pyramid to make offerings to heavenly deities (the male hawk and the female eagle). Building the temple at the joining of two rivers may not be a coincidence either. In the religious beliefs of Quechua-speaking peoples, this union –or tincumayo- symbolizes the strong driving forces of the Wiracocha universe and is replicated in the night sky as the merging arms of the Milky Way, near the Southern Cross constellation.


The role of hallucinogenic drugs in Chavín religious life

Hallucinogenic drugs, from the San Pedro cactus (5 borders) or the Huilca seed, have been used in Andean religion, since the earliest times. In this archeological complex there's a fascinating representation of their use.


The walls of the sunken courtyard of Chavín were decorated with carved heads, set deep into stone, resembling gargoyles that are found on European cathedrals. These carvings, fixed onto wall in tiers, are three into dimensional carvings of men and beasts, showing the transformation of a man into a snarling feline, Some of the carved heads have mucus pouring from the nose, something that happens when hallucinogenic snuff is snorted. This has led Chavín scholar Richard Burger, to suggest that heads represent a drug-taking shaman transmuting from man to possessed prophet.



Located 1 Km. north to Chavín de Huantar district. Visiting hours: Mon to Sun 9:00 - 17:00. Opened in July 2008. Exhibition and research center of archaeological pieces have been recovered in the area of archaeological place, such as those found in the village, from the time it was first excavated by Dr. Julio Cesar Tello Rojas to the present. Therefore, in this fabulous new museum will appreciate the Tello Obelisk, pututos, gargoyle heads, ceramic vessels, etc., in short a whole range of cultural artifacts that reveal the high degree of development reached the Chavín culture


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