Chan Chan, capital of the Chimu dynasty in Peru

Chan Chan foto: David Holt / CC BY-SA (

Around 1300 AD the rulers of the Chimu dynasty in today’s Peru chose Chan Chan as the capital of their kingdom. The city already existed but was much smaller, and was located in the Moche Valley not far from the coast. Chan Chan appears to have been built around 900 AD but the original founders are unknown. Chan Chan is now on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Wall in the central square Foto Kevstan / CC BY-SA (

The Chimu Dynasty transformed the old small site into a large city with a centre measuring about 3.7 square kilometres. The complete city measures around 13 square kilometres and was at the time the largest city in the Andes.

The ground plan of the centre was complex and original. It consisted of nine connected sections surrounded by walls 7 metres high and 1,000 metres long. Each of the nine  fortified sections had streets, residential districts, irrigated gardens, pyramids built of adobe and mud, a necropolis, reservoirs and other buildings whose function is unclear. It is assumed that the city was fed by a water system from the surrounding valleys. It is estimated that 30,000 people would have been able to live here.

A typical feature of Chan Chan is the elegance of its architecture, the surrounding walls and those of the buildings are made of adobe stones, embellished with alcoves and bas-reliefs and then plastered and painted. Images include fish, birds, divine beings and geometric patterns.

Foto Martin Garcia

The city gradually expanded, reaching its peak around 1300 AD. Much about the Chimu Empire is still uncertain, such as its rich civilisation, hierarchical system, treasures and resources, and indeed the people who built the largest city in the Andes and transformed barren land into fertile ground. Historical sources tell us that the Chimu Dynasty came to an end when it was conquered by the Incas in 1602 and the city was destroyed, leaving only ruins and deserted palaces.

Remains of adobe walls in Chan Chan                  Kevstan Kevstan / CC BY-SA (

Over a period of many years the remains of the city were plundered and the ruins overgrown by nature. Efforts at restoration in the last century have cleared much of the site and – despite its ruined state – Chan Chan is still an impressive sight.

Text                      Harrie Wolters

Translation         Alun Harvey


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