Thursday, May 22, 2014

Trujillo—the Culture Capital of Peru

                                               by Jim Goodman

colonial architecture in central Trujillo
    Peruvians call the northern coastal metropolis of Trujillo “City of Eternal Spring” for its fine weather and balmy temperatures all year round.  They also consider it the Capital of Peru’s Culture.  It is the center of the elegant, traditional courtship dance known as the marinera.   It is the birthplace of the breed of Peruvian horse called Paso, with its distinctive ambling gait, the breed overseers preferred on the big sugarcane and cotton plantations of days past.  Several of the country’s famous writers and artists hailed from Trujillo and the city plays host to various cultural events and festivals each year.  The city center features many fine churches, government buildings and mansions from the colonial era.  In addition, it is close to the impressive ruins of important pre-Inca civilizations—the Moche and the Chimú.
totora boats on the sea
    With about 800,000 inhabitants, Trujillo is Peru’s third largest city.  It lies along the Moche River about four kilometers from the sea.  The beaches here are renowned as top-grade surfing venues.  But even when the waves are too slight for surfboards the beaches are still interesting for the caballitos de totora—“little horses of the bulrush reeds.”  Long and narrow, with upturned prow, the paddler and passenger seated near the back, these reed boats have supposedly been in use about three thousand years and reflect the basic geographical fact of seacoast settlements:  they
are a long distance from the wood of any forests, which are only in the mountains.    
totora boats on the shore
    Trujillo also lays claim to being the first new city established by the Spanish after their conquest of the Inca Empire and seizure of Cusco.  Pedro de Amalgro established the town in late 1534, a few months before the founding of Lima.  He named it Trujillo of New Spain, after the birthplace of his boss, Francisco Pizarro, the conquistador-in-chief.  Three years later Trujillo became the first city granted official recognition by King Charles I, who also bestowed a coat-of-arms, another first in colonial Peru.  In the early 19th century Trujillo became a major hotbed of anti-colonial sentiment and was the first city to declare independence from Spain.  It was also briefly the first capital of the Republic of Peru.
    Amalgro chose a site along the Moche River, one of those rivers that tumble down from the Andes and punctuate the coast of northern Peru, providing a strip of fertile land through a landscape that is otherwise desert.  Previous settlers, like the Moche and the Chimú, had extended this land with irrigation systems and the Spanish did the same.  In time, large plantations appeared, raising cotton and sugarcane.  In recent times this has included rice and asparagus and Trujillo is one of the world’s leading asparagus exporters.
    But the city’s history is not one of continued growth and success.  Geo-physically, northern Peru is a volatile place.  The weather may continue dependably for a long time and then suddenly undergo a spell of violent alterations, like severe drought and high winds that create monstrous sand dunes. Moreover, the entire Pacific Coast is on a major tectonic fault line and no place is completely safe from the threat of earthquakes. In 1619 Trujillo suffered near-total destruction from an earthquake, which also killed nearly half the city’s population.
    In the late 17th century drought and pestilence caused a steep decline in agricultural production.  Meanwhile, the city was vulnerable to pirate raids until a defensive wall went up, with a 5.5 km-long perimeter.  It remained until the end of the 19th century, when it was removed to make way for the city’s expansion.  Problems with the weather returned next century.  Flash floods afflicted Trujillo in 1701, 1720, 1728 and 1814, as well as two more earthquakes, in 1725 and 1759.
Huaca del Sol--Pyramid of the Sun
    What the frustrated conquerors and colonists didn’t realize at the time was that such disasters were a common thread to the history of the area since long before the Spanish arrived.  The periodic weather phenomenon known as el Niño drastically altered living conditions throughout the history of the settlement of northern Peru, sometimes destroying whole civilizations.  This was probably the case with cultures in the area that rose and fell prior to the beginnings of the more durable Moche culture (also known as Mochica), which began around 100 C. E.
Moche warriors, Pyramid of the Moon mural
    There was never a true Moche empire, but rather a common culture shared by a number of autonomous states.  The largest and most important of these was in the Moche River valley, but Moche cultural influence extended for 400 kilometers along Peru’s northern coast and up to 80 km inland.  Fishing was important to the local economy, but the society was basically an agricultural one, dependent on extensive use of irrigation.  This reliance led to a highly stratified society of an elite class able to direct the irrigation work and organize the defense of the state and the rites of religion designed to keep the entire system going.
    Scholars reckon Moche culture flourished from the 4th to mid-6th centuries, characterized by monumental construction projects and outstanding achievements in ceramics, textiles and mural painting.  The most impressive monument was the Huaca del Sol, or Pyramid of the Sun, 50 meters high and 340m by 160 m at the base. It stood beside the biggest Moche urban center, a few km from present-day Trujillo, next to the volcanic peak of Cerro Blanco..  Erected in the mid-5th century, it was the largest adobe structure in all of pre-Columbian America, utilizing over 130 million bricks made in over 100 communities.  Moche rulers conducted state rituals here, lived and were buried here, while the smaller Huaca de la Luna, Pyramid of the Moon, saw service as a religious center and burial site for the religious elite.
Moche god Aiapaec--the Decapitator
    The exteriors of both temples originally featured brightly colored murals, only traces of which remain, due to the effects of the weather over the many centuries after they were abandoned.  The Pyramid of the Sun suffered from vandalism, especially by the Spanish, but the Pyramid of the Moon is better preserved.  Interior walls, platforms and even brick staircases feature mural paintings and low-relief sculptures, brightly painted, depicting gods, warriors, mythic tales, serpents, spiders and other animals, real and mythological.  One of the most common, and striking portraits is that of the chief Moche deity Aiapaec.  He was their Creator god, provider of food and water, but also the Punisher.  Usually artists only painted his fierce face, but sometimes they showed his whole body, a sword in one hand and a severed head in the other.  Archaeologists later nicknamed him the Decapitator. 
Moche mural, Huaca de la Luna
    Moche religious practice could be pretty brutal.  Excavators at Moche ruins have found plenty of evidence of human sacrifice, even torture, with severed heads offered to Aiapaec.  Apparently Moche religion included the belief that because the flow of irrigated water was so important to the life of the nation, it had to be magically aided by the flow of human blood.  As for the victims, some scholars argue they were members of the local elite who lost in ritual battles, while others postulate they were warriors captured from rival tribes, like the Aztecs’ victims. 
    The masses of simple farmers and fishers who made up the non-elite were probably not affected by these ritual slaughters.  They carried on their daily chores and at the same time developed the arts of weaving and pottery to unprecedented levels.  With simple back-strap looms that are still in use today, Moche weavers created cloth made from vicuña and alpaca wool that, in the few extant samples, display intricate inlaid patterns and fine pictorial representation.  But it’s the ceramic work that is the Moche culture’s finest achievement.
    Much more of Moche pottery has survived than its textiles or murals.  And most of it was found intact in burial sites.  Go to a museum anywhere in Europe or the Far East to see ancient ceramics and you see pieces that are patched together from several dozen shards.  But Peruvian ceramics are in such good
Moche ceramics--fishing motif
condition it’s like they just came out of the artisan’s shop.  While the Moche and others apparently created molds to reproduce a particular piece, those that wound up in common people’s houses are all lost, while those interred with corpses never broke or shattered.  Or perhaps they created unique pieces for burials, for when visiting all the museums in Peru you won’t find two pieces exactly alike.
    Moche potters used few colors, mainly rich red and creamy yellow, but the range of their subject matter was extremely broad.  Virtually every activity of daily life found expression in their ceramics, as well as the plants and animals of their environment.  Besides farming, fishing and fighting, this included sexual acts like masturbation, fellatio and anal sex.  But even more impressive is Moche portraiture pottery, featuring faces based on real people, even those born with deformities.   
    In the mid-6th century Moche country suffered from severe climatic changes that included thirty years of heavy rains and floods, followed by thirty years of drought.  This not only destroyed much of the elaborate irrigation system but also undermined the religious belief that sacrifices assured the stability of the weather.  Moche culture survived for more than two more centuries, but in an attenuated form, while the days of building gigantic temple structures was over.  Much of their material culture, in agricultural techniques, arts and crafts, passed on to their successors, the Chimú, who set up their state of Chimor in the late 9th century. 
porno pottery
ceramic Moche portrait
    This eventually became a much more sophisticated and organized state than anything the Moche had experienced.  The Chimú expanded agriculture by linking valleys with great hydraulic projects.  They built large cities and elaborate defensive works, carried on maritime trade with areas beyond their realm on the Pacific Coast, inherited and developed the Moche traditions in ceramics, weaving and metal-working, and eventually expanded to rule an empire that encompassed the former Moche realm as well as south all the way to Lima.
    The Chimú imperial capital was Chan Chan, 5 km west of modern Trujillo, in a well-watered part of the Moche Valley.  Founded around 850, it grew to cover an area of 20 square kilometers and was the largest adobe city in the world, housing at least 30,000 residents.  As Chimor expanded, developed an administrative bureaucracy and its capital became a major trading center, Chan Chan’s original core of palaces, citadels, temples and burial chambers added marketplaces, storehouses for goods and new neighborhoods for the merchants and crafts workers who came to live there.  Walls featured decorations like carved fish, crabs, birds and other animals and reservoirs were built adjacent to its southern walls.
the ruins of Chan Chan
    The peak of Chimor’s power came in the late 14th century, but in the 1460s it suffered defeat and conquest by the Incas, less than three generations before the Spanish came and started conquering everybody.  Chan Chan was already a deserted city by then.  But after the Spanish got over their initial sense of wonder they did not try to resurrect it as a city but built their own nearby at Trujillo.  Of course, anything so impressive as a former royal capital meant it was probably sure to hold lots of buried treasure like gold ornaments.  So the Spanish systematically looted it.  They also diverted the Moche River to flood the base of the Moche Pyramid of the Sun to loot its tombs more easily.
    There’s a limit to how long an economy can subsist on the plunder of ancient valuables, for eventually the search stops yielding.  Trujillo’s ultimate success lay in its development of agriculture, fishing and coastal maritime trade, just like Chimor.  And to ensure that success, the Spanish copied the hydraulic engineering and irrigation systems first put into place by their Moche and Chimú predecessors. 
    Nowadays Trujillo’s economy has developed beyond fishing and farming.  Shoes and leather goods are an important sector.  But even more important is the burgeoning tourist business, which always promotes visits to the Moche and Chimú ruins, for it was the achievements of these ancient peoples that provided the model for Trujillo’s establishment and success.  Centuries after their demise, the legacies of the Moche and Chimú are still major components of the culture of Trujillo.
Chimú gold funerary mask
                                                                         * * *

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Living Inca Town of Ollantaytambo

                                                                   by Jim Goodman

Ollantaytambo and Pinkuylluna Mountain
    North of Cusco, the pre-colonial capital of the Inca Empire, the Urubamba River flows through a stretch of the Andes Mountains, from Machu Picchu to Pisac, that once constituted the Sacred Valley of the Incas.  Today it is one of the major tourist attractions in Peru, featuring magnificent scenery, the ruins of ancient fortresses and temples and spectacular terraces clinging to the sides of steep mountain slopes.  The most popular site in this valley, embodying all these characteristics, is of course the World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu.  The rest of the valley tourists usually cover in a separate day’s excursion.
mother and child, Ollantaytambo
    For all its stunning beauty and intrinsic interest, though, Machu Picchu is a ruin, a vestige of history, uninhabited for centuries.  About 45 km downriver, however, lies the vibrant town of Ollantaytambo, home to over 10,000 residents, most of them Quechua-speaking descendants of the people who founded the town hundreds of years ago.  At an altitude of 2800 meters, it lies along the Patacancha River near its confluence with the Urubamba, in between the two mountains Tamboqhasa and Pinkuylluna.  The original checkerboard grid of straight streets in between these mountains is intact and many of the houses are a few hundred years old.  Their occupants no longer celebrate the old Inca festivals, for they converted to Christianity after the Spanish conquest, but in most aspects, their material life differs little from the days of the Inca Empire.  They also still dress in traditional style, with colorful skirts, hats and ponchos that enhance the atmosphere of any stroll around the vicinity.
    The town was an important Inca religious center and boasts several archaeological attractions.  Besides its collection of temple and fortress ruins, ancient terraces and stone streets, Ollantaytambo is the site of a sculpture unique to the Inca realm—a carved head of the god Wiracocha, 140 meters high, on the cliffs of Pinkuylluna Mountain.
taking a break in the town square
  In Inca mythology Wiracocha is both the Creator God and a Culture Hero who introduced the people to language, songs and seeds, taught them which plants were edible, which medicinal and which poisonous, as well as how to make clothing and other useful knowledge.  At Ollantaytambo he gave the people his staff, on which was inscribed all this knowledge.  In return, the people carved his image high up the cliff of Pinkuylluna.
    Only the head is really sculpted.   But the shape of the mound above it suggests the burden the god always carried with him on his travels around the world.  The brow is wrinkled in a way that suggests both admonishment and
the face of Wiracocha
watchfulness.  The eye stays in shadow even as the sunrays hit the rest of the face until about 2:30 in the afternoon, when the light hits the eye and Wiracocha “wakes up.”  He has a long nose and ears and a full beard.  On the top of his head he wears the hat of an Inca astronomer-priest—round with a cylindrical protrusion at each corner.  Equally high up on another slope behind this image is Wiracocha’s temple.   On the summer solstice day the first light to peep through the mountains strikes first the hat and then the temple.
     On Tamboqhasa, the other mountain flanking the Patacancha River, ancient stone terraces climb up from the base to a spur housing temple ruins and a former fortress.  In a landscape dominated by mountains and little relatively flat, alluvial land for farming, stone terraces extended the area for cultivation and kept the valleys free from the danger of landslides.  Builders cut stones of different sizes and angles and fitted them together to produce the best possible structures for both water retention and drainage systems. 
    In the beds of these terraces they first laid a layer of pounded gravel, then a layer of sand and afterwards filled it with topsoil carried up from the valley.  This prevented waterlogged soil from expanding and bursting the retaining walls.  The stones in these retaining walls heated up during the day and then, during the cool nights, transmitted this heat to the soil.  This kept the plant roots warm even when the temperatures plunged to frosty levels.  Farmers generally used them to grow corn, potatoes and quinoa, a cereal grain.
terraces of the Astral Llama on Tamboqhasa Mountain
    But if the terraces didn’t yield the expected amount of these crops then the farmers first planted some corn.  When the corn stalks started getting tall they planted beans, which grew around the stalks.  The bean plants also enriched the soil by adding nitrogen to it.  Finally, in the open spaces left, they planted squash, which kept the soil moist and more or less weed-free.  The Inca stone terraces (other fine examples are at Machu Picchu and Pisac) enabled the Urubamba Valley to become a major food producer for the Inca Empire.
    They also had cosmological significance.  Terraces were not just built wherever it was physically feasible.  Probably under the direction of the local priest-astronomers, farmers constructed terraces and laid out their cities on that part of the terrain that resembled a certain animal or constellation.  In Ollantaytambo’s case, the terraced area of the lower slope of Tamboqhasa represents the Astral Llama.  Viewed across the valley from the slope of Pinkuylluna, it does have that shape, with the head of the animal to the left, where the ruins of the Astral Llama’s shrine stand. 
the main residential area
    This practice of ordering the terraces along lines resembling sacred concepts extended to the residential area as well.  With its parallel streets spaced evenly apart, urban Ollantaytambo was to resemble an ear of corn, the area’s most important crop.  The town itself, along with its farms on the alluvial fan between the bases of the two mountains and the Urubamba River, is laid out like the constellation of the Tree of Life, with the trunk being the narrow part between the two mountains.  This was also the case with Pisac, where the terraces, temples and fortress were on a mountain supposedly resembling the condor, and of Machu Picchu, where the settled part was shaped like a caiman, a South American alligator, and the mountain behind it was a crouching puma.
the House of Dawn--Pacaritampu pyramid
    Not all Inca terraces were the big and sturdy, highly visible, stone staircase types that climbed up the flanks of mountains.  A much more subtle arrangement characterized the terraces that made up the pyramid of Pacaritampu--the House of Dawn—on the western part of the fan of alluvial land in front of Ollantaytambo.  It’s not a pyramid in the Egyptian style, or even like the temple-pyramids of the Aztecs and Maya.  In fact, it is only 32 meters high, occupying an area of 150 hectares.   Even when standing on the flat, trapezoidal top of it one would not realize it was a pyramid at all, for its sides appear to be but faintly declining slopes.
the "windows" of Pacaritampu
    The only way to see the entire pyramid and appreciate its design is by ascending high up Yanaqaqa Mountain across the stream south of the pyramid.  Near the summit of Yanaqaqa, where the apus, or mountain spirits, make their abode, where the Andean snow peaks are visible just across the valley, is the observation point known as the Gate of the Sun.  From here the pyramid, lost in the landscape from points further below, seems to dominate its environment.  It was from way up above it here that the original designers planned and supervised its construction. 
the abode of the mountain spirits
   The Incas called the pyramid the House of Dawn because of the special effects of the first light of dawn on certain key days of the year.  Each ridge of the pyramid is aligned with the position of the sun at dawn on the summer and winter solstices and the spring and autumn equinoxes.  Along the base on the southern side are two recessed, rectangular niches that represent the “windows” of the temple.  According to Inca religious belief, these symbolized passageways to the secret, the sacred and the spiritual and thus to the very heart of knowledge.  On the winter solstice the first beam of light falls across the southern side of the pyramid and lights up one of these windows, while the rest of the pyramid, and the valley as well, are still swathed in shadow.  On the summer solstice the first beam of sunlight hits the truncated top of Pacaritampu and runs right down the center of the western side.
    The Incas built the House of Dawn here because the site was associated with the mythical founding of the Inca nation.  Thus the ‘dawn’ of the temple’s name also implied the birth of the Inca empire and the “dawn’ of a new era.  The first emperor, Manco Capac, was supposed to have been standing at one of the windows at dawn when he was unexpectedly illuminated by the first sunrays.  He did not establish his capital here, though, but instead moved over the mountains 85 km away and founded the royal city of Cusco.
ruins of the fortress above the town
    For a century or so the Inca realm was limited to the area around Cusco.  In 1440 they won a great victory over the Chanca, their main local rival, and from then on embarked on a course of rapid expansion that in less than a hundred years gave them control over an empire from Quito down the coast halfway into modern Chile.  The Spanish began invading and conquering this territory in the 1530s.  Having captured and killed the Inca emperor the year before, the conquistadores occupied Cusco in 1533 and installed a puppet emperor there, who died soon and was succeeded by the young Manco Inca.  He was initially cooperative, but in a short time soured on the Spanish, fled Cusco and from his new home base in Ollantaytambo in 1536 raised the banner of revolt. 
    Assembling a large army Manco Inca laid siege to Cusco, but could not capture the city.  The Spanish counter-attacked the Inca stronghold above the city and forced Manco Inca to retreat.  But other Inca generals occupied neighboring highland areas and annihilated Spanish relief forces.  Though they failed to capture Lima they were still a formidable force and a grave threat to Spanish control.  So the Spanish decided to try to end the deadlock with a direct assault on Ollantaytambo.  Commanded by Hernando Pizarro, the force comprised 30,000 Indian warriors and 100 Europeans, 30 of them infantry and 70 cavalry.  Manco Inca had about the same number in his army, manly made up of conscript local farmers and a large number of recruits from the Amazon rain forests.
Manco Inca
    He had prepared his defenses well, fortifying the eastern approaches and rechanneling the Urubamba to crisscross the valley and provide extra lines of defense.  The Spanish-led forces thus had to cross streams several times, encountering fierce resistance at each point.  The bulk of Manco Inca’s army confronted the enemy on the terraces of Tamboqhasa.  To hinder the cavalry, the Inca commanders released water from hidden channels to flood the plain.  When the horses got bogged down in the rising water the Inca warriors counter-attacked.  Realizing the peril his forces were now in, Pizarro called off the attack and retreated to Cusco.
    Encouraged by his victory, Mano Inca launched another expedition against Cusco.  But the Spanish ambushed his forces at night.  Shortly after, a large Spanish contingent returned to Cusco from campaigns in Chile and Manco Inca decided Ollantaytambo was too close to Cusco in the new situation and moved west to Vitcos.  Pursued by a Spanish army, he escaped to the even more remote location of Vilacabamba and died shortly afterwards.
    The Spanish took possession of Ollantaytambo and put the entire population to work in the mines.  They did not force them out of the town, nor replace their houses with colonial villas.  But they did not let them farm and so the people stopped using the terraces.  Centuries later, when Peru became independent and the people of Ollantaytambo could go back to agriculture, they did not revive the use of the ancient terraces, but made new farms on valley lands.  The stone terraces still perform their other function, that of preventing landslides.  They also provide a constantly visible reminder of Ollantaytambo’s days of glory, when it was one of the famous jewels of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. 
the main battleground in the Spanish assault on Ollantaytambo
                                                                         * * *