Aerial photograph of Chan Chan, from Google Earth
Picture of Chan Chan citadels. Internet download
Picture of Chan Chan citadels. Internet download.
The Chimú Empire (950-1440 AD) extended along the Peruvian coast from Tumbez in the North to Lima in the South. Chan Chan, located in the Moche valley, was the capital of the Empire centralizing all the services. Built in adobe, was the biggest pre-Columbian urban center in South America, currently declared UNESCO World Heritage, since 1986.
The citadels are big settlements that contain a great number of monumental buildings. Six of them were named in honor of explorers and archaeologists that worked in the place: Squier, Bandelier, Rubber, Tschudi, Rivero, Velarde, and Tello. The other citadels are denominated Great Chimú, Chaihuac and Laberinto. The small structures are the Huacas.
The civic constructions served to the aristocracy and the State, while the proletariat consisting in artisans, personal of service and farmers lived in dispersed neighborhoods outside of these monumental centers. The palaces articulated the urban space, since each king built his government place during his life and then this became monument after his death.
Michael E. Moseley and Carol J. Mackey (1973, 1974), after their investigations in 1967 and 1969, formulated the hypothesis that once the Curaca (ruler) died and buried in the ¨funerary platform¨, all its citadel was transformed into an enormous catafalque where his servants, women, court characters and priests, were sacrificed and buried to accompany him and to serve him in “the other life”. In turn, the following ruler ordered to build his own palace citadel. Presumed habit, very similar to those of their successors, the Inca.
In synthesis, Chan Chan shows three urban typologies:
1) The slums, of agglutinated rooms, without surrounding walls, dispersed without apparent order in the Western suburbs. More complex than simple cabins and associated to cemeteries of adobe chambers with double walls.
2) An intermediate tipology located among the citadels, without a specific planning, represented by enclosures with niches, of regular geometries, also with lower surrounding walls and other similar attributes to those of the monumental architecture, but of smaller scale. The biggest ones show a more rigorous planning of patios, passages and storage rooms, in comparison with the smallest of more domestic characteristics. Seemingly the use was residence of social classes immediately lower than the royalty who tried to emulate them.
3) The royal architecture of the citadels, of monumental character that, obviously did not reflect population's density, since many works were carried out by non resident workers.
Each citadel was surrounded of adobe walls of approximately ten meters high covered with a soft mortar in which intricate designs of birds were carved, mamals, fish, in two styles, one more realistic and the other one more stylized and abstract.
An interesting aspect is that there are not openings to the North, although these are the walls more exhibited to the sun in detriment of the fog; the highest walls protect against the winds of the SO coast. The combination of these walls configurate a labyrinth, and, in turn, each inhabitable structure has multiple internal walls that form an intricate space of corridors, rooms, covered with the elite's artistic expressions.
The structures of these settlements are intimately bound to the economy of their characteristic activities and their social strata. The strata between noblemen and slaves did not resemble at all to the European models, since they were seen as products of separate creations, the noblemen derived of two stars and the plebeians of two planets, what implies that both groups did not move among them. These conceptions of Andean social order were established in different material forms, the most evident are those belonging to the funeral landscape. Great part of the constructions is due to these beliefs. The sacrifices and other methods of ritual violence were imbued in the Andean cultural practices. The cosmological principles, the phenomena, the religion and the social order were connected to the exercise of the power, and it was still maintained after the death of the Curaca who was confined in his palace so that the vassals could not perceive his mortality. The lack of respect to the temples, the disobedience to the law was severely punished burying the culprit alive.
This concept where the physical and the social world correspond each other, is denominated doxa, term used by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu in humanist instances that implies the limitation of the social mobility inside the social space; the imposition of limits for each individual like symbolic force of the political power. Some cultural objects are recognized as doxa to be inappropriate for a certain social position. Doxa contains the sense of "one's place", and the sense of ownership. The sacred landscape is also a symbolic way to establish social orders.
The form of an urban settlement is the result of how its creator glimpses its use, and the social frame sustains its sense.
The urban morphology of the citadels of Chan Chan has been born of abstract geometries with U shape patterns product of deliberate actions of the human logical-political thought, with a concrete purpose: the one of being adjusted to the growing productivity, social separation and control of both, production and society.
And what the archaeologists and anthropologists wisely point out is a geometric evolution that neither is accidental nor it arises of the application of an intentional mathematical model.