Showing posts with label ancient city Chanchan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ancient city Chanchan. Show all posts

Monday, August 19, 2013

History mystery: Chanchan, A target of the Inca conquest -2

The Chimu were energetic builders, and established urban centres less grandiose than Chanchan in almost all of the valleys they ruled, including Tucume Viejo in the Leche valley and Pacatnamu in the Jequetepeque. They followed a tradition of urban construction established by earlier Andean civilizations, executing their work with greater skill, and on a larger scale. Only a powerful administration was capable of organizing such large building works. Some information has survived on the nature of Chimu government. The king was supreme, wielding absolute power. Known as the Quie quic, or Great Lord, he was like the Inca sovereign in claiming to be descended from the gods. Below the king were the Chimu chieftains, known as alaec, and the members of the royal family. One myth states that the king and the nobility were descended from two stars, while the common people sprang from two others.

The tale suggests that a strict class system existed, and that there was no possibility of movement between the classes. At the bottom of the social scale were the commoners, who were referred to as paraeng and yana, generally taken to denote vassals and servants. Agriculture was the main source of livelihood, on land owned mainly by the king and nobility. A few animals such as the dog and the Muscovy duck were raised for food. Fishing and hunting also supplemented the diet. The large-scale manufacture of craft goods also supported the economy, and trade was based on barter. The centralized state supervised various public works. For example, a network of roads was built to link the kingdom’s different regions. An irrigation system, begun by the Moche a few centuries earlier, was extended to reach some of the desolate spaces around the valleys, to secure abundant harvests. Like other ancient peoples all over the world, the Chimu watched the movements of the heavenly bodies with fascination. Yet no divinity seems to have been worshipped as a supreme force. Legends refer to a variety of gods – notably the sea, the stars, the sun, and the moon goddess Si. Si was considered more powerful than the sun, because she was visible even during daylight hours. While knowledge of the Chimu’s beliefs remains sketchy, ample material survives to form a picture of their superlative craftsmanship. Their goods included figures identical to those on wall friezes in the capital.

This suggests that a single model was used for multiple copies. Weavers worked on tapestries, embroidery, and ceremonial mantles made with feathers. Chimu potters specialized in a gleaming black ware – vessels cast in moulds and ingeniously embellished with human and animal figures. But it was in goldwork that the Chimu excelled. Chimu goldsmiths mastered the arts of soldering, chasing, and filigree work. Most goldwork was made from hammered sheet metal, although some pieces were cast in moulds. The results were exquisitely shaped golden bowls and goblets, masks, breastplates, and jewellery. The Chimu goldsmiths were famed beyond the frontiers of their own state. When the Incas overran the Chimu kingdom, they took the most skilled craftsmen back with them. In about 1460, the Incas began to penetrate the northern regions of Peru.

 But Minchan-saman could offer only ineffective resistance, and Chimor was defeated and brought within the Inca domain. The Chimu king was treated well, and his son, Chumun-caur, was appointed to govern the defeated kingdom. But between 1485 and 1490, the unity of the kingdom was destroyed – its ruler became merely a provincial chieftain of the Moche valley, with no power over the neighbouring territories. The Incas went on to absorb Chimu achievements into their own empire, which extended beyond modern Peru to much of Ecuador and Bolivia, and parts of Chile and Argentina. Like Chimor, the Inca domain was rigidly centralized, with a system of roads and couriers running between the main centres. But now they carried the orders of the supreme Inca, the Child of the Sun. After the disintegration of the Inca Empire and its subjugation by the Spaniards, Chanchan – which was already partially abandoned – was sacked by the treasure-hungry conquistadores. The city fell into ruin, and the native goldwork was melted down in huge quantities and cast into ingots sold at the metal’s market value. Yet neither time nor conquest has completely obliterated Chimu civilization. The Incas disseminated Chimu culture over an area much larger than the original kingdom, and the Spanish chroniclers preserved their legends. And even in their fallen state, the regal ruins at Chanchan evoke the majesty of the Chimu rulers and the inventive energy of their people.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

History mystery: Chanchan, A target of the Inca conquest

On the northern coast of Peru, a field of ruins stretches as far as the eye can see. This was Chanchan, capital of the Chimu, which fell to the Incas only decades before the Incas themselves perished under the swords of the Spanish conquistadores. When the spaniards defeated the incas in the 16th century, they inherited the remains of more than one civilization. Inca Peru, also an empire of conquest, embraced many different societies. But the Incas extinguished earlier traditions as mercilessly as the Spaniards were to crush their own, and many of the cultures that rose and fell in the Andes and its fringes are shrouded in mystery. The first major culture to arise in Peru was that of the Chavin, around 1000 BC. Others followed: the Paracas of central Peru, who mummified their dead and wrapped them in magnificent fabrics; the Moche of the northern coast, who were great builders and goldsmiths.

Farther south, the mysterious Nazca culture emerged round AD 500, leaving behind a fantastic network of designs – birds, spiders, and geometric figures – indelibly scored across the desolate southern plains. By about AD 1000, the culture of the upland Tiwanaku people dominated much of Peru, which now enjoyed a rich cultural heritage. Among the civilizations that built on this heritage, none was more impressive than Chimor, the kingdom of the Chimu, ruled from the city of Chanchan. A handful of legends collected by Spanish chroniclers have survived through the centuries to explain the origin of Chimor. The tales centre on the semi-mythical hero Taycanamo, founder of the Chimu royal dynasty. Taycanamo, so the stories say, arrived in the Moche valley on a raft as an envoy from a great lord beyond the seas. He brought with him a magical yellow powder – probably gold dust. He built a palace, learned the language, and was eventually recognized by the locals as their chief.

Taycanamo is said to have founded his dynasty in about 1300, but archaeology has shown that Chanchan, the Chimu capital, dates back to an earlier period. The site is thought to have been settled as far back as 800 BC, and monumental construction began in about AD 850. But it was not until the Taycanamon dynasty that the city became the wonder of its contemporaries. Taycanamo’s dynasty continued through nine more kings. His immediate successors conquered the whole of the Moche and six other valleys. But the empire reached its peak under the last monarch, Minchan-saman. In the mid-15th century, when the Incas were expanding southwards from their capital at Cuzco in the central highlands, Minchan-saman brought the valleys of the central coastlands within the fold of Chimor.

The kingdom now stretched along 960km (596 miles) of coast, from Tumbes in the north to a point near present-day Lima. Chanchan was even larger than Cuzco. It covered about 20km2 (7½ sq miles), and supported 40,000 people. With its workshops, factories, warehouses, and temples, it was the hub of Chimu trade, religion, and administration. The heart of the city was dominated by ten great enclosures, with tapering walls ranging from 7.5m to 9m (24½ft to 29½ft) high. Each enclosure conformed to the same rectangular plan, with a single, narrow entrance in the north wall and an interior divided into three sections: north, central, and south. The north and central sections contained living quarters, kitchens, audience chambers, courtyards, colonnades, storage areas, and water tanks. The southern sections often contained a mound or platform. When archaeologists excavated one of these mounds in 1969, they uncovered the remains of almost 100 young women. They had been sacrificed – perhaps by poison. In the centre, they found a T-shaped tomb and burial offerings. What purpose did the enclosures serve? There were ten such structures, built one after another – and ten kings in the dynasty of Taycanamo. The generally accepted theory is that each king constructed an enclosure as his own royal residence. After death, it would have served as a shrine devoted to his worship, and his heir would then build his own complex. The royal enclosures were built with a combination of clay and sun-dried mud bricks, as were the city’s houses, storage areas, and colonnades, which were roofed with reeds, straw, and clay. Clay friezes of geometric motifs, animals, and various mythological monsters decorated the walls. The reliefs often depict sea-birds, fish, starfish, and crustaceans. Chanchan was close to the sea, and the ebb and swell of the Pacific must have been constantly in the minds of its inhabitants. The ocean was a divinity known as Ni, worshipped by casting offerings of maize and red ochre into the waves. Around the outskirts of the citadels were humble dwellings made of cane. Two depressions at each end of the city appear to have been planted with gardens, and water was supplied to areas that needed it by a system of irrigation channels. A pyramid complex, probably a temple compound, stood just outside the city. This way not an innovation of Chimu society – flat-topped pyramids had existed in Peru as early as the 2nd millennium BC.