Despite being the capital of the Chimú Empire, Chan Chan is famous for its extraordinary adobe brick construction. This city located in northwest Peru is entirely made of adobe bricks, a signature style of the Chimú architecture. Although the erosion threatens to wipe the town, we can still witness the magic of the monumental buildings.
The story behind Chan Chan
Adobe is a brick type produced from mud. While adobe bricks are delicate construction material, the city stood the test of time for more than 600 years thanks to the drought.
The wealthy city, which used to be home to 60,000 residents, is now abandoned. In its best days, Chan Chan was the largest city made of adobe bricks. It was a home for artisans and priests, which formed the privileged social class. In addition, the ordinary residents were workers for the monarchy. With over 10,000 structures featuring original adobe brick construction, this city is a true spectacle. These buildings are authentic for the Chimú architecture, with walls that expand to soaring heights. The expert hands completed the exterior with mud, ornating with patterned reliefs.
The city at this glorious days
The center of Chan Chan was a home for the wealthy residents, hosting few walled citadels. The workers lived outside of the center’s walls, in modest constructions. The capital of the Chimú kingdom has ten palaces, with a single entrance and labyrinth-like layout. The walls are rich in details, with relief designs featuring sea life and geometric shapes.
It is important to note that the Chimú were huge art lovers, gathering statues and art from other cultures. They even dedicated special storerooms for showcasing the art, expanding them later to fit the extensive collection. When the Inca took over the city, they stole the art and brought it to their capital.
One of the ten palaces open to the public is Tschudi Complex. The monumental building gathers a mausoleum, audience room, courtyards, and other rooms vital for the Chimú. The adobe brick construction stood the test of time, thanks to effort and dedication. They fixed the moisture damage instantly, ensuring a pristine and tidy look. However, severe weather conditions are the ones that cause visible and irreparable damage. El Niño is a notorious natural phenomenon, bringing heavy rains every 25 to 50 years that cause erosion.
The capital of the Chimú civilization is in a desert, meaning that water was a sparse resource. However, they managed to build a smart irrigation system to provide water. The rainless area is the main reason why the adobe brick construction remained intact through the years. With limited resources, they took advantage of seafood as their primary nutrition source. The ornate friezes confirm this fact featuring marine wildlife as a motif.
Craftsmanship and art
With 26,000 craftsmen residing in Chan Chan, the city showcased their expertise and creativity. The skilled artisans crafted pottery, textiles, and fine metal objects. The Chimú had their signature pottery style, with a monochromatic color scheme and fine metal details. In 1470, the Inca brought down the city’s shine, and they conquered the kingdom’s capital, taking away its precious heritage.
Chan Chan today
Chan Chan’s only threat today is heavy rains, which threaten to wash away the historic city. According to scientists, climate change resulted in increased rainfall. Consecutively, the rain results in increased erosion of the adobe brick construction. We could notice the signs of deterioration, which has shrunk the massive walls. Therefore, we could only imagine how the city looked like at its peak glory. To protect Chan Chan’s architectural heritage, Peru’s national institute takes all the needed precautions. They covered the adobe brick buildings to protect them against the weather conditions.
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