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Best Places to Visit in Northern Peru: Moche Civilization

Moche Civilization Tour

The Moche civilization developed on the northern coast of Peru between the second and seventh centuries of our era, spanning territorially several cities of the country from the Moche River Valley (in today’s Trujillo), to the border region of Piura.

The wonders left by this pre-Hispanic culture can still be visited in some of the museums that were opened in recent years, especially after crucial discoveries for world archaeology such as the tomb of the Lord of Sipan or the magnificence of the Lady of Cao.

But, on the Moche Route we will not only find one of the best cultural routes in the country. Along the more than 300 km of coastline we will find some of the best dishes of Peruvian gastronomy such as ceviche or seafood dishes based on shrimp, or we can practice sports such as fishing or surfing.

On our way we will find world-class beaches such as Puerto Chicama (Trujillo) or Pimentel (Chiclayo), with a warm and mild climate throughout the year. We can also discover life forms that survive from the Moche civilization, such as the use of the “totora horses”, small boats based on a marine reed in which still enter the sea artisanal fishermen of the area.

Main attractions of the Moche Route in northern Peru

Chan Chan

The largest mud city built in Latin America is located in the northwest of the city of Trujillo. The city of Chan Chan is considered as the capital of the Chimu culture, but it reached the Moche territory after its collapse at the end of the first millennium of our era.

This adobe complex had about 20 km2, nine palaces and is estimated to have sheltered 60,000 people. The beauty of this city made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.

8 km south of Trujillo we find the “Huacas del Sol y de la Luna, which were capital of the Moche culture between the 1st and 7th centuries AD. The area covers 120 hectares and was an important political-religious center.

We will still be able to observe the colorful murals with symmetrical figures and the image of the supreme god of the Mochicas, the god Aia Apaec, whose name means “The Maker“. This divinity, worshipped and feared in equal parts, represented an anthropomorphic face with feline fangs and sea waves around it. Also considered as the one who brings justice, he was also called “The Decapitator“.

Best Places to Visit in Northern Peru: Moche Civilization

The Lady of Cao

The discovery of the Señora de Cao (Lady of Cao) in 2006 represented a revolution in the scientific community of the planet due not only to the good state of conservation of the mummy of this Mochica ruler, but also to the paradigm shift in the theories that said that pre-Hispanic Peru was a patriarchy governed by men.

The discovery, which was made known through the National Geographic, took place in Huaca de Cao Viejo, in the archaeological complex El Brujo (60 km north of Trujillo), and since then thousands of visitors have come to this point in the department of La Libertad to meet this leader who is also characterized by the tattoos that cover his body.

Last 2017 we were able to put a face to the Lady of Cao thanks to the latest 3D reconstruction technologies and the joint efforts of the Peruvian Ministry of Culture and Wiese Foundation. The remains of this Moche lideresa rest under the tutelage of the Museum of Cao, very close to the place where it was found.

The Lord of Sipan and the Royal Tombs Museum of Sipan

In 1987 another milestone of modern archaeology was discovered in Huaca Rajada (Chiclayo): the tomb of the Lord of Sipan.

This Mochica ruler appeared almost intact next to his entire trousseau, including his wife, two concubines, the chief of his army, a banner bearer and a soldier with his feet amputated. The bodies of two llamas and a dog were also found, in addition to 600 pieces of gold, silver and various precious stones.

All this responded to the immense power of the Lord of Sipan, who was considered by the Moche culture as a semi-god and protector of all the inhabitants of his area of influence.

In addition to this burial there are two other discoveries by Peruvian archaeologist Walter Alba, the’ Priest‘ and the’ Old Lord of Sipan‘, which is considered to be a bloodbath of the Lord of Sipan. Today we can find the bodies of these mummies in the Royal Tombs Museum of Sipan, inaugurated in 2002. The burials we can see in Huaca Rajada are exact replicas of the original ones.

Best Places to Visit in Northern Peru: Moche Civilization - Royal Tombs Museum of Sipan

Archaeological site of Tucume

We continue to visit the northern coast of Chiclayo to reach the archaeological site of Tucume, which keeps the remains of up to 26 adobe pyramids dating from around the 11th century AD. The curious orography of the terrain has made this enclave popularly known as the “Valley of the Pyramids“.

The Huaca del Pueblo, the Huaca de las Balsas and the Estacas, known for being an administrative and ceremonial center of the Sican or Lambayeque culture, which was annexed to the Chimú kingdom and later to the Inca empire after the conquest of the latter in the 15th century AD.

Batán Grande

One of the last points of the Moche Civilization Tour is located 41 km north of Chiclayo, in the archaeological site known as Batán Grande, belonging to the Sican culture and known -especially in Peru- for being the place where the Tumi was found, a ceremonial knife with a curved blade that has become very popular as an image of the country brand.

This is the most important architectural complex of the Sicán or Lambayeque culture (VII to XII A. D.) and is composed of 20 truncated pyramids that have heights above 30 meters. Highlights include the pyramid or Huaca del Oro, la Ventana, La Merced, Rodillona, Botija, among others.

In the Huaca del Oro was discovered in 1991 the third great leader of this route, known as the Lord of Sicán, belonging to the Sicán or Lambayeque culture. In addition to this great discovery, there are a series of mural paintings depicting a rainbow crowned by feline heads.

These remains are preserved in another museum built specifically to maintain this legacy: Sicán National Museum, located in Ferreñafe.

Moche Pottery

Although the Moche were outstanding for their innovations in agriculture and fishing (with the mentioned “totora horses”), where they really stand out is in the elaboration of ceramics and the mastery of their artisans.

The Moche or ‘mochica’ pottery recreated divinities, plants, animals and complex scenes from the daily life of its inhabitants. These small sculptural images or brush-painted vessels were considered a valuable offering for the dead.

Undoubtedly one of the best examples of this type of burial is the Lord of Sipán, Moche ruler belonging to the third century A. D., where they found – in addition to an important trousseau of gold – up to 212 vessels with various pictorial motifs.

These motifs include varied themes such as collection tasks, fishing, battles, dances, sexuality, human sacrifices or anthrozoomorphic or anthroictiological transformations, complemented with staggered signs, stoneware, crosses, circles, volutes, among others.

We can say that the Moche Route that covers the northern zone of Peru, is one of the best alternatives for travelers who seek a good option of cultural tourism, but also a route through warm beaches, rest with sun and sea, and above all, one of the best marine gastronomies of the planet.

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