We just got back from our first tour of Chimu ruins (thin 850-1470) near Trujillo. First we stopped at Huaca Arco Iris, a Chumu temple of the rainbow, so named for their love of the sea. Our visit started auspiciously with a sighting of two tiny yellow birds (almost canaries?) and two hairless dogs of Peru (later adopted by Frida Khalo). We walked into this high walled temple (adobe brick walls about 15-20 feet high and some 700 years older than Chan Chan) to find murals, not at all protected from rain, and partly restored.
Above the rainbow we could see stylized waves, reminding me of the early Greek and Minoan Mediterranean cultures. The arc of the seven-colored rainbow ended with twin snake heads over two sea otters, linked by their transformative tongues. At the base of the mural, two warriors stand guard with dome caps on either side, and a mythical feathered serpent holds the timu, a ceremonial knife shaped like an upside down half moon. Misnamed the Temple of the Dragon when it was discovered in 1960, today archaologists prefer the name Temple of the Rainbow as closer to Chimu beliefs. We climbed to the top of this pyramid via a steep ramp and were rewarded with a view of the valley, massive sand dunes, the nearby mountains, and, close to the ocean, the complex of Chan Chan itself, which once included about 60,000 people and 9 different sub-cities.
Mural at Huaca Arco Iris (photo courtesy of Webshots) See more photos here (including the dogs).
We then drove over to the portion of Chan Chan that is open to the public -- the Tschudi complex, which once contained about 60,000 people and is a veritable maze of buildings and plazas used for ritual, religion and burials. Here you can see the fishnet walls (note the bird friezes at the base of the walls). Archaeologists are busy excavating and reconstructing the many friezes throughout the complex -- pelicans, cormorants, the Incan cross, even the lowly squash are key decorative elements.
What's fascinating is the role of weather in the history and continued existence of these ruins at Chan Chan. Every 2 to 7 years, El Nino comes roaring ashore with massive rains and flooding. While protective roofs cover some of Chan Chan, many of these delicate applied mud adobe high relief murals are at risk. Tomorrow we'll trek to the Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon), a Moche temple.