Pachacamac: 2000 Years of Peru’s History near Lima
Just 30Km south of Lima, in the valley of Rio Lurin, is an archaeological site that we had never heard of. We were so fascinated by the Larco Museum – again – that we were praising it far and wide. A direct result of this was that a friend from the travel blogging community *) suggested we might like to visit The Archaeological Sanctuary of Pachacamac, since we were so close. So we did.
The Sanctuary doesn’t cover the 5000 years of Peru’s history, which we had discovered at the Larco Museum . But it does go back almost 2000 years. It was a ceremonial centre connected to the god Pachacamac, considered as the ‘Maker of the Earth’ by the local people.
This site was inhabited by 4 successive Pre-Columbian civilisations: Lima, Wari, Ychma and Inca. Each had their own influence on the development of the site. There were temples, plazas, palaces and other buildings. Its 3 main temples – Templo Viejo, Templo Pintado and Templo del Sol – were built at different times, by different cultures. But all incorporated the worship of the oracle Pachacamac in their use of the site.
Between 300 and 400 AD, this was the first culture to construct buildings on this site. They built with small, hand-made bricks called ‘adobitos’. Amongst those remaining is the Templo Viejo (Old Temple), and the Conjunto de Adobilitos, which is right next to the museum parking lot.
We experienced the centre of Wari culture when we visited Ayacucho . Around 800 AD, the Wari influenced the Lima culture, and this caused changes in the architecture, pottery and also how they dealt with their dead. This is also the time when the cult of Pachacamac spread beyond the Central Coast of Peru. Pilgrims began coming from far and wide.
This culture developed in the valleys of the Lurin and Rimac rivers from around 1100 AD. Originally they were scattered groups, but they integrated around the worship of Pachacamac. Most of the buildings in the Sanctuary today were constructed by the Ychma.
They formalised the layout of the site and built a new version of the Painted Temple (Templo Pintado), where the carved representation of Pachacamac dwelt. Unfortunately, access to this area is restricted and can only be seen from a distance, hidden under extensive roofing for its protection. This is due to extensive conservation work being carried out on the structure.
They were also responsible for the ‘pyramid with ramp’ structures (see further down), of which there are many remaining in quite good condition.
The expansion of the Inca Empire began around 1440 AD. They arrived on the central coast of Peru 30 years later. The takeover of the Lurin valley was peaceful, and the Inca built the Temple of the Sun of Pachacamac on top of the highest hill. This was an adobe construction.
They also built the Acllawasi, which housed the chosen women of the Pachacamac Cult. Along the base of this building was the mortar-less square-cut stone construction that the Inca are famous for.
It is interesting to note that the Sanctuary of Pachacamac was the first major ceremonial centre that the Spanish conquerors destroyed in South America.
A Visit to Pachacamac
Pachacamac Archaeological Site is made up of the Archaeological Circuit and the New Site Museum.
Once again, the desert climate of Peru has been responsible for preserving the remains of this massive site so that we can truly imagine how life there might have been. We visited the Archaeological site first, to avoid the midday heat, then went to the museum after a lunch break. You may prefer to do it the other way because there is a lot of information about the site in the museum.
This 3Km circuit is well-organised, with very good information signs along the way, so a self-guided tour will work. We felt we would have benefited from having a guide but unfortunately there were none available at the site that day.
You can easily walk the circuit but there is also a road for vehicles. We had assumed that would be limited to the tour groups. But as we set off, a friendly guard told us that we could also drive ourselves through the site – since it was a hot day, we did.
There are parking lots at strategic spots where you can leave your vehicle and then walk along the access paths to the buildings. The longest walk was from the parking lot for the Painted Temple up to the Temple of the Sun. It appeared that it’s sometimes possible to drive up the hill, but the road was clearly closed that day.
New Site Museum
As soon as you enter the museum, you are left in no doubt as to the intention behind it:
The exhibition in this museum is aimed to share the universal values that qualify the Archaeological Sanctuary of Pachacamac to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These values refer to its exceptional cultural significance, which should be a priority of preservation for present and future generations.
It also houses the carved wooden figure, believed to be the Pachacamac deity. This sculpture was kept at the top of the Painted Temple.
We learnt a lot from wandering around the museum, including that the Sanctuary is at an intersection of two major branches of the Qhapaq Ñan – the UNESCO World Heritage listed ‘Great Inca Road’. It was surely an important place in the Inca Empire.
Most of the information (about the 4 cultures who lived in Pachacamac) included in this post was taken from the museum walls. There appears to be plenty of evidence of the site’s value as a potential World Heritage listee.
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
South America’s Oldest City
We would like to be telling you now that our next post will be about our visit to the World Heritage listed site – The Sacred City of Caral-Supe . Although we tried very hard to make it happen, we were completely stymied by Peru’s wetter than usual rain season.
We attempted to reach it from Huacha, following a rough gravel road through mining areas. After taking more than half an hour to drive 11Km, we finally arrived in a river valley full of citrus trees. There we discovered that the Rio Supe had broken its banks and we were unable to cross – just 8Km from our goal.
The next day, after retracing our steps along that terrible road, we drove north toward Barranca and turned off the Pan American Highway onto a much better road, which was even signposted to Caral-Supe. This time we were stopped within 15Km of our destination because of flooding. Same river – but approaching it from a different direction.
A local motorist stopped to talk to us and suggested we should come back in June. Unfortunately, we don’t really want to stay in Peru until then – and our visa expires at the beginning of May. So we missed ‘the oldest centre of civilization in the Americas’. It would have been the perfect addition to this series of posts about Peru being a ‘cradle of civilisation’.
Additional Practical Information
If you arrive in Lima by plane, as most tourists do, we recommend that you look for a reputable tour company with a knowledgeable guide to visit this site. We followed a small group with a company guide for a while, and he was describing individual elements in a really fascinating way. Well worth paying a few Soles more!
Information for Overlanders (like us)
Near the site there is a large oil refinery. Hence, you can find some of the cheapest fuel in Peru right here along the highway. We camped overnight in a nearby village by the river.
*) Thanks to Lyn Lindfield from the Travelling Lindfields (link to their post from Pachacamac) for encouraging us to visit Pachacamac!