The Ancient Cities of Peru

When you talk with most people about the ancient wonders that exist in Peru, all will invariably mention Machu Picchu, the fortress built high in the mountains by the Incans. And while this area is definitely worth a visit and must be seen, there are also many other areas in Peru rich in archeological history created by civilizations and tribes that inhabited the country well before the Incans. For the history lover, studier of ancient religions, or those who just love to see ancient sites and ponder what life must have been like then, there are many other areas within the country’s borders that visitors must take the time to check out.

In Chachapoyas, in northern Peru, is Kuelap Fortress, erected over 1200 years ago. It was the hallmark of the Chachapoyas civilization, and was built as a symbol of the power wielded by this family of natives. The fortress itself is over 3000m long, and still contains the ruins of the original 400 structures built in the area. Restoration of some of the structures is in progress, but the fascinating décor on the original fortress walls, now covered in lush greenery, are still intact.

Just south of Kuelap is the biggest ancient city in the western hemisphere, Chan Chan. Because of its location on the arid coastal plains near Trujillo, the city remains almost completely intact with its original adobe erections. Chan Chan, built in 800 AD, is a high-walled complex with most all of its original structures – homes, ceremonial sites, and tombs – still in pristine condition. Intricate carvings and artwork give insight into the mastery of craftsmanship that existed at the time.

Two other ancient complexes containing pyramids are also located in northern Peru. Caral, north of Lima, is now believed to be the oldest city in the western hemisphere, but went essentially unexplored until the middle of the 20th century. Since then, archeologists have discovered many temples, pyramids, and an amphitheater, forcing scholars to rethink the level of civilization that existed in the hemisphere during that time. The other well-known pyramid compound is at Tucume. Several different civilizations occupied the area over the centuries, and the Spanish used it when they arrived to degrade the Inca’s religious beliefs and convert them to Christianity by building fires atop some of the man-made hills. To this day, there are some residents of the area that renege to visit the site due to the superstitions surrounding it.

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