The archeological site of Chavin de Huantar was a sanctuary and pilgrimage site of the culture of Chavin, one of the ancient civilizations of South America that existed between 1500 and 300 B.C.. This ceremonial center is located at an altitude of 3,177 meters in a high valley in the Andes.
The complex consists of temples, a number of terraces and squares and a network of underground galleries. There is a massive central square, with underneath it a well-engineered system for drainage. The Castillo is the main temple, with three levels of dry stone masonry. On the outside it was adorned with sculptured cornerstones – the famous “Cabezas clavas” of which one is still in situ.
Furthermore there are zoomorphical bas-relief sculptures and sculpted megaliths: the Lanzon, the Raimondi stele and the Tello obelisk. Pottery with religious offerings inside was found, including shells and carved bones.
Chavin priests manipulated sights and sounds to install fear in nonbelievers: they blew on Strombus trompets and amplified the sounds of water running through specially designed tunnels. They used hallucinational drugs, extracted for example from the San Pedro cactus.
Having been already noticed by the first Spanish explorers, the site was excavated from 1919 on. In 1945, it was partially covered by a landslide. And in 1970 it suffered from an earthquake. A new museum has been built in Chavin to house the original precious treasures that have been excavated.
Visit May 2011
I visited Chavin by public transport from Huaraz. It takes 3.5 hours via a mountain pass across the Cordillera Blanca. You will also pass through the Huascaran National Park (another WHS) en route. When the bus is approaching the village of Chavin, you have a great view on the archeological complex that is pasted to the mountain. Although it is mostly known for its underground galleries, the sight of the main temple in its natural setting was a pleasant surprise to me as I had never seen photos of the complex.
I hired a guide to show me around (5 EUR, only in Spanish). The main structure consists of a grand pyramidical temple with a rectangular square in front of it. It was at this square were the religious ceremonies were held that the pilgrims came to attend. It is layed out almost like a modern day stadium, with rows of stairs on the sides to sit on and watch the spectacle. The site has suffered from a landslide and an earthquake, so some of it is not in the original location. Large sculpted stones are scattered over the area. Replicas of the Raimondi stele and the Tello obelisk can be seen. A few things have survived in situ however: the Lanzon, a fine sculptured monolith hidden in a gallery, and one of the cornerstones in the shape of an anthropomorfic figure at the outside of the wall.
The guide pointed out the large noseholes and wide open eyes in the sculptures – evidence of the use of hallucinational drugs. The site is also high on symbolism (the number 7 keeps recurring) and astrological features.
The originals of the archeological findings are nowadays located in a new museum in Chavin. This museum is impractically located on the other side of town along the main road, about 20 minutes walk from the Plaza de Armas. It is an enormous modern building, constructed with Japanese help. There are relatively few artifacts to be seen despite the size of the building – I was in and out in about 20 minutes. Their quality however is extremely good: sculpted Strombus trompets, the Tello obelisk and the Cabezas clavas.
More photos can be found in the Picture Gallery
|Rob Wilson (UK):|
I am delighted to be the first to review this magnificent world heritage site!
To say that this place was a pleasant surprise was a massive understatement.
Chavin is still shrouded in mystery. Archeologists seem to have only a small idea of what the place was used for, so I will not comment on its origins.
At first glance, it appears that there is little to see here, but a little exploration of the site soon reveals a beautiful 'courtyard' and water 'tank'. These are only the start though. Much of the site is underground, and soon you find yourself in bizarre chambers and galleries.
The entry fees are only about $4, and it is worth every penny.
A real pleasure to visit, that should not be missed by any archeology fan!
| Date posted: July 2008|
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