Peru’s most beautiful archaeological sites

Present-day Peru has been the territory of numerous cultures. Still largely unknown, today the remains of these ancient civilizations constitute extremely important archaeological sites. In a series of posts, the Bloggers-travellers-photographers from the website lesglobeblogeurs.com present what they consider to be the most beautiful sites.

Throughout the country the remains of important civilizations bear witness to the extent of culture and know-how, often underestimated by Europeans guided only by gold and conquest.

Cumbe Mayo canal © globeblogueursThe Cumbe Mayo © lesglobeblogueursCumbe Mayo, a natural site located about twenty kilometres from the city of Cajamarca, was a place of sacred rituals for a pre-Inca civilization. It is also home to one of South America’s most ancient constructions. Real masterpiece of hydraulic engineering dating from around 1500 B.C., a canal, was carved out of the surrounding rock with stone tools, carried water over 20 kilometres from a source to the surrounding population.

In the same region, strange ventanillas confirm the presence of a cemetery situated on the side of a cliff. Burials in Otuzco stretched over a long period, between 1130 B.C. until 1240 A.D.

Ventanillas at Otuzco © Les globeblogueursHuantar site at Chavin © lesglobeblogueursThe Chavín de Huantar Temple attracts relatively few visitors, given its location at over 3000 metres height and 3 hours drive from the city of Huaraz. The UNESCO World Heritage listed temple was the main centre of the Chavín civilization, whose existence extends from 1000 to 200 B.C. Its position was central as it was located at the junction of the commercial routes. At the time, the site was a major place of pilgrimage and its area of influence would have extended from the Pacific coast to the Amazon. The exterior of the temple is adorned with bas-reliefs, whereas zoomorphic head sculptures are aligned and inlaid inside the temple. Within the temple, one finds a maze of tunnels, platforms and granite terraces. Under the temple, a system of galleries with very peculiar acoustic properties produces strange sound effects within the site. One hypothesis suggests that religious authorities of the time used this ingenious system, more than likely coupled with hallucinogenic substances, in order to convince visitors of the power of the Chavín divinities.

Huaca del Sol site © lesglobeblogueursFrom 100 to 700 A.D., the Moches civilization occupied the region located at the foot of Cerro Blanco, in the north of the country. Buildings can be found there: The Huaca de la Luna and The Huaca del Sol, the first being dedicated to religious affairs, the second to administrative ones. Between the two, spread a city, where the social status of its inhabitants was defined according to their proximity to the Huacas. The Huaca de la Luna is a complex 6 levels reversed-pyramidal construction. After a century or so, a new level with a larger base was built upon the older ones, thereby condemning the previously built levels. Frescos representing the Moche civilisation’s cosmogony ornate the Huaca de la Luna, in the middle of which is found the Decapitator, represented in the form of a monster. Despite an absence of writing, the Moche culture produced superbly sophisticated realistic ceramics whose decorations help us understand this culture’s daily life. It was approximately in 700 A.D. that the Moche civilization disappeared. One theory suggests that a major climatic phenomenon may have caused their downfall.

The Chimú civilization, whose existence extends roughly from 1000 to 1470, was probably built upon the ruins of the Moche civilization, an hypothesis validated by the similar ceramic techniques. Their capital, Chan Chan, spread out over 20 square kilometres, was an adobe-built city which allowed the site to withstand seismic activity. 30000 inhabitants would have populated the city, with the social hierarchy visible in the architecture, from the Royal citadel to the small housing of the working people. Contrary to the Incas, who venerated the sun, the Chimus worshiped divinities such as the moon and the sea. The ocean appears very frequently in the ornamental style of the city.

Karajia sarcophagus © globeblogueursThe Chachapoyas are an indigenous Amerindian people having lived between the IXth and the XVth centuries. They built, around the Xth century, the fortified city of Kuelap which is located at 3200m height. The circular stone bases of around 500 dwellings can still be seen. In order to protect themselves from invasion, the main entrance to the fortified city was designed to allow the passage of only one person at a time. Difficult of access, Karajia is a Chachapoya cemetery situated on a cliff face. Six particularly well-preserved earth and stone sarcophagi, as well as numerous mummies and bones, can be found there. Various theories attempt to explain how these sarcophagi would have been placed in such an inaccessible spot : access paths may have been destroyed intentionally as soon as the bodies were placed there, or else erosion may have caused the paths to disappear over a long period of time.

Cusco, the famous Inca capital, has become a very touristic city. It is particularly remarkable for its massive walls, made from huge blocks or rock whose irregular form guarantees the necessary stability in this seismic environment.

Pisaq site © lesglobeblogueurs Accessible from Cusco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas contains a multitude of historical sites such as the ruins of Ollantaytambo located on the slope of a hill. Of particular interest are the hard to access ancient granaries. Being at high altitude, the harvest was preserved thanks to the cold and the wind. Close to it, the ruins of Pisaq are made up of several structures of various styles, as well as agricultural terraces. Maras, a town also in the Sacred Valley, is well known for its salineras, salt evaporation ponds on a hill slope. Terraces of Moray site © lesglobeblogueursSince pre-Inca times, the Indians have exploited salt, making good use of the sodium-chloride saturated stream that runs through the Maras valley. Later, the Spanish put in place terraced ponds in order to harvest salt more efficiently. The site of Moray highlights the advanced technical skills of the Inca civilization. The site contains three concentric terraces where multiple agricultural experiments were conducted. These terraces enabled the creation of around twenty different micro-climates. The highest temperature is in the bottom center and progressively cools down towards the periphery. 250 plant species were grown there in order to develop optimal agricultural conditions as well as improve yield. The Moray terraces benefit from an elaborate irrigation system. In addition, staircases dug into the walls enabled people to walk easily from one level to another.

Arequipa site © lesglobeblogueursMoray site near Maras © lesglobeblogueursDominated by the Misit volcano, Arequipa city dates back to the colonial period. Nicknamed the White City because of the colour of many of its buildings, either converted colonial buildings or religious ones, such as the majestic neoclassical cathedral. Founded in 1580 the Santa Catalina monastery is also of great interest. A peaceful haven in which brightly coloured walls, fountains, small gardens and patios are testimonials of the Indian and Spanish influences.


NB: Thank you to Globe Bloggers Seb and Laura for their kind reception as well as allowing us to use their photos in order to illustrate this article inspired by their travels.
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