Chan Chan

World Heritage Site


The Chan-Chan citadel


5 km / 3 miles northeast of Trujillo, in the Mochse Valley (10 minutes by car). Site Museum. Visiting hours: Mon. – Sun. 9:00 A.M. – 4:00 P.M.

This pre-Hispanic urban center represents the largest mud city in pre-Hispanic America. In 1986, it was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.

Chan Chan might have been the capital of the Chimu Kingdom, originally including over twenty square kilometers, from the nearby Port of Huanchaco to the Campana Hill. Archeologists estimate that it lodged over a hundred thousand people. Plazas, houses, warehouses, workshops, streets, walls, and pyramidal temples are clearly defined in its structure. Its enormous walls are profusely decorated with reliefs of geometric figures, zoomorphic stylizations, and mythological creatures. The journey through the archeological site is complemented with a visit of the Site Museum.


Spreading over more than 20 square kilometers, the world’s largest mud brick citadel was declared part of Mankind’s Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. From a pure functional viewpoint, it resembles more the Egyptian necropolis at Gizeh than the walled cities of Babylon.


Located almost at the city limits of Trujillo, Chan Chan (or The Great Sun in the Mochica language) was the capital of the vast Chimu empire. Built between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it comprises palaces, residential quarters, cemeteries, gardens and platforms for religious performances surrounded by walls up to 13 meters high. Exquisite high reliefs sculpted with refined techniques depict geometric and animal patterns that evidence the unique artistry and complexity reached in the use of clay in Chan-Chan in association with the liturgy and customs of the dominant castes.


Located in the lower Moche valley, the Chan Chan compound gradually expanded from an initial core in the Cayhuac citadel and the El Higo
pyramid to eventually embrace a total of what seem to be 10 adjoining monumental citadels. Appearances, however, are deceiving. The high perimeter walls and the labyrinth of rooms around the main squares were in all likelihood built as palaces for the Chimor kings. After the death of each sovereign, the corpse was buried together with his harem and some members of his retinue inside the platform monument built behind his residence. The surviving members of the dead king’s household and other special attendants were charged with collecting tribute in kind and labor to keep the palace in good state of repair, thus ensuring the continuity of the posthumous cult to the dead monarch.


A total population of 26.400 residents has been estimated of which some 10.500 were handicrafts makers of both sexes. A vast network of irrigated farms and sunken field, as well as llama packs, ensured the uninterrupted supply of foodstuffs and raw materials. In Chan Chan, like in the Egyptian necropolis, ample quarter for artisans and bureaucrats were located near the pyramids and funerary palaces to ensure the continuity of worship to the god-monarchs during hundreds and even thousands of years after their death.


Advisable minimum time for the visit 4 hours.


Chan Chan Photo Gallery:


Cultural World Heritage Site


The Chimú Kingdom, of which Chan Chan was the capital, reached its peak in the 15th century, not long before falling under the Incas. The planning of this huge city, the biggest in pre-Colombian America, reflects a strict political and social strategy, marked by its division into nine "citadels" or "palaces" forming independent units.


Threats to the Site:

The vast and fragile site of Chan Chan was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1986, the same year it was inscribed on the World Heritage List. Its adobe, or earthen, structures are quickly damaged by natural erosion as they become exposed to air and rain and they require continuous conservation efforts and substantial ancillary measures. The Committee recommended, therefore, that appropriate measures be taken for the conservation, restoration and management of the site, that excavation work be halted unless accompanied by appropriate conservation measures and that all possible steps be taken to control plundering of the site. A substantive state of conservation report was prepared in 1993 and reported to the seventeenth session of the World Heritage Committee.


Since then, efforts of the site administrators have been directed towards the preparation of a master plan and training of conservation and management personnel, with substantial support from the World Heritage Fund. In 1999, a comprehensive master plan addressing conservation and management issues, as well as the interpretation of the site for visitors, will be completed.


A first Pan-American Course on the Conservation and Management of Earthen Architectural and Archaeological Heritage, which directly benefits to the preservation and management planning for the site, was held in Chan Chan in 1996, jointly organised by the Government of Peru, ICCROM, CRATerre EAG and the Getty Conservation Institute. A second course is scheduled for 1999.


In 1998 the impact of El Niño, the warm Pacific current which affects climate world-wide, was unusually strong, leading to torrential rain and flooding. Emergency measures had to be taken, with assistance from the World Heritage Fund, to protect Chan Chan. The impact of El Niño on the site has, however, been relatively modest and the protective measures, undertaken with emergency assistance from the World Heritage Fund, were effective.


Chan Chan, which spans an area of 20 square km, is the largest mud-brick citadel dating back to the pre-Hispanic era. To build it, the Chimú architects used clay, mud, pebbles, wood, reeds, straw and cane, materials which enable the citadel to blend in with the sandy coasts. The complex is made up of many cities within a city, each of which has its own single entrance which leads down a corridor that opens up into other passageways lining walls and buildings featuring some marvelous rectangular architecture: inner patios, residences, administrative buildings, temples, platforms and storehouses. The walls were decorated with haut-relief friezes done in geometric and animal figures. The T-shaped platform that housed the king's burial chamber was the most important construction in the complex. The citadel was surrounded by outlying quarters which housed the kingdom's producers and servants. The separate cities today have been given the names of the archaeologists who studied them (Rivero, Tschudi, Bandelier, Uhle, Tello). The Rivero city was the seat of Minchancamán, the last of the Chimú rulers, who was captured by the Incas and taken to Cuzco, according to the Spanish chroniclers.


The city was the urban center of a vast regional state which covered half of the Peruvian coast, stretching from Tumbes on the Ecuadorian border down as far south as Lima. All roads branched out from Chan Chan.


Pre-Inca City and archaeological center declared Cultural World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Located on a vast plain, very near the ocean (Huanchaco) .


Capital of the Chimú kingdom, city made of mud, considered as the biggest in America and one of the biggest of the world; its importance is only comparable to the old cities of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China or Teotihuacán in Mexico.


It occupies an area of 20 square/km where exist palaces, temples, squares, ponds, gardens, aqueducts, labyrinths. Its walls are ornamented with beautiful and stylized carved drawings of fish, pelicans, rhombuses, foxes, etc.


In the time of its maximum splendor it is calculated that its population was above 100,000 inhabitants, with all the services and excellent urban line.


The city is subdivided in rectangular sectors from 200 to 400 m length, with walls of trapezoidal shape that reach up to 12 m height and with roads among the walls. These sectors today take the name of their main investigators, as Tschudi, Uhle, Tello, Rivero, Velarde, etc. The central part, called Great Chimú Palace is the more advisable place to start your visit, as well as the Huaca "El Dragon".


At the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, the city was plundered, being taken many invaluable pieces of gold, silver, gems and ceramics.


Through time it has been erosioned and destroyed by the climate due to its proximity to the sea, and effects of "El Niño" phenomenon. Besides, the huaqueros action, farmers and the lack of protection of authorities in the past it is not well preserved. Some sections of the city have been reconstructed and restored, and at the moment it is declared as intangible area and protected in an extension of seven square/km.



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