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The spectacular North of Peru is rich in archaeology, history and scenic contrasts. Bounded by the cold waters of the world's most plentiful fishing grounds and the Amazon rainforest, lie the stark deserts, fertile valleys, mountains and cloud forests that gave birth to several great pre-Inca civilizations.
From the 1st to the 15th Century AD the most prominent of these cultures - Moche, Lambayeque, Chimu and Chachapoyas - achieved great sophistication and skill in ceramics, agriculture, architecture, metallurgy and warfare. Their vast and mysterious citadels, tombs and temples grace the outskirts of some of the principal cities of the north - Chiclayo, Trujillo and Chachapoyas.
The Northern Coast's civilizations left us astonishing evidence of their achievements. Tucume, the “Valley of 26 Pyramids”, was a thriving city of temples and squares built by the Lambayeque in the 11th Century and conquered by the Chimu in the 14th. The exquisitely decorated Moche Temples of the Sun and the Moon stand a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, near the 500-acre complex of Chan Chan, capital of the Chimu Empire and one of the largest and most developed cities in the ancient Americas.
This major archaeological site was built at the time of the Moche culture (100 BC-650 AD), just east of a prominent, freestanding hill, the Cerro Blanco (White Mountain), and next to a small tributary of the Moche River. It occupies a central location within the extensive Moche Valley. The complex sits about three miles inland, southeast of the modern city of Trujillo and is considered by many scholars to be the former capital of the Moche State.
The complex is dominated by two huge adobe brick buildings: the Pyramid of the Sun, or Temple of the Sun, and the artificial platform called Huaca de la Luna, or Temple of the Moon. On the quarter-mile-wide, open plain between them, researchers have found many graves, most of them looted, as well as evidence of large scale manufacturing covered by a layer of sediment up to 10 feet thick. A considerable number of administrators, religious, and manufacturing specialists must have been living at this great prehispanic settlement. Like most prehispanic sites on the coast, it is located so as not to usurp agricultural land and in a good position to acquire food, building material and other resources.
"Huaca Cao Viejo" is an archaeological site dating back to the Moche culture (100 BC-650 AD). It is a badly damaged, stepped pyramid with a central court that was probably used primarily for religious ceremonies. This pyramid is undoubtedly the most impressive Moche site in the Chicama Valley and is nowadays more often referred to as "EL BRUJO" ("The Sorcerer"). This current name is due to the common practice of shamens of the North coast (who also are called “brujos” or “curanderos”) to hold some of their healing ceremonies at prominent hills or prehispanic ruins, which they consider to be places of power.
The city of Chan Chan, capital of the Kingdom of Chimor, also known as the Chimu Empire, represents America's largest prehispanic mud-brick settlement. Its complexity has come to light only after years of intensive excavations. This large city covers 7.7 square miles and is centered on a 2.3 square mile urban core dominated by a series of huge enclosures - the palaces of the Chimu kings.
The origins of the city go back to the beginnings of the first millennium AD when the first large enclosure, probably the Ciudadela Chayhuac, or Chayhuac Citadel, was built. Subsequently, many more ciudadelas, eleven in total. By the time the Inca conquered the Chimu domain, around 1470 AD, the capital was the center of an empire that covered a stretch of 621 miles of the Pacific coast and controlled about two-thirds of all agricultural land ever irrigated along the Pacific coast of South America.
The Moche tomb of Sipan -the richest burial site discovered in the Western Hemisphere (October 1988 - National Geographic) is a few miles east of the modern city of Chiclayo. Finely crafted gold artifacts and ceramics recovered from these complexes are on display at the Museum of the Royal Tombs - one of the finest in South America as well as at the Museum of Sican.
The region's shamans, direct descendants of these lost civilizations, are famous throughout Peru for their healing skills and wisdom, and can be visited by travelers. Nature lovers may explore the unique dry forest of Chaparri and the Spectacled Bear reintroduction project. Birdwatchers enjoy spotting the region's 40 unique (endemic) bird species, including the emblematic Marvelous Spatuletail Hummingbird. Travelers may also visit Colonial House and traditional haciendas that breed and show Peru's world famous “Paso Fino” horses.
In February 1987, shortly after the police found prehispanic handicrafts of the finest quality in the hands of local gravelooters or huaqueros, archaeologists decided to have a closer look at one small platform on the west side of the archaeological site called “Huaca Rajada” (Split “Huaca” or Adobe Ruin), close to the modern village of Sipan. Their efforts were richly rewarded with the first of several ensuing discoveries of spectacular tombs of the Moche nobility.
While thousands of prehispanic objects of considerable artistic value lie on Peruvian and foreign museum shelves, the vast majority of these come from looted graves and thus offer only limited insight into the lives of the Moche people, who lived from about IOO BC to 650 AD. Thus, the discovery of the intact, unlooted tombs of Sipán has been enormously helpful to our understanding of American prehistory.
Latin America’s most spectacular new museum is named “the Royal Tombs of Sipan”, after the world-famous burial chambers discovered beneath ancient adobe pyramids on Peru’s northwest coast. The three-story, six-million-dollar museum, which contains by far the greatest intact discovery of gold artifacts in the Americas, is shaped like the pre-Columbian pyramid under which Peruvian archaeologists discovered this amazing tomb in 1987 (cover stories in National Geographic Magazine in December 1987 and March 1989.
The Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum is considered as one of the biggest museum in Latin America dedicated to a single archeological discovery and one of the newest museums in the world by Art News magazine from New York. In the next lines we transcribe an article that appeared in this important magazine.
If you are interested to visit the north of Peru including the most important archaeological sites and Museums visit out tour programs page where you will also find programs to Kuelap fortress and Chachapoyas area.
Purgatorio (purgatory) is the name by which local people refer to the dozens of prehispanic pyramids, enclosures and mounds found on the plain around La Raya Mountain, south of the La Leche River. This is the site of Tucume, covering an area of over 540 acres and encompassing 26 major pyramids and platforms.
This site was a major regional center, maybe even the capital of the successive occupations of the area by the Lambayeque/Sican (1000/1100-1350 AD) , Chimú (1350-1450 AD) and Inca (1450-1532 AD). Local shaman healers (“curanderos”) invoke the power of Tucume and La Raya Mountain in their rituals, and local people fear these sites. Hardly anyone other than healers ventures out in this site at night.
The plains of Tucume are part of the Lambayeque Valley, the largest valley of the North Coast of Peru. The Lambayeque Valley boats scores natural and man-made waterways. lt is also a region of numerous pyramids.
The Sican Museum is located in Ferreñafe, 25 minutes from the city of Chiclayo. It displays the different daily aspects of the Sican culture including different process for making pottery and metal crafts. In addition Sican Museum has an interesting display of the tombs of the Sican nobility. The Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm.
The name Sicán, has recently been adopted to refer to the culture that flourished in the Lambayeque region around 750 AD. This culture traces its roots in the local Mochica culture and in other contemporary cultures such as Cajamarca, Wari and Pachacamac - central coast-. Sican must not be mistaken by Sipan, another important archaeological site located that belongs to Mochica or Moche culture.