by Jim Goodman
|colonial architecture in central Trujillo
|totora boats on the sea
are a long distance from the wood of any forests, which are only in the mountains.
|totora boats on the shore
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
|Moche warriors, Pyramid of the Moon mural
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
|Moche mural, Huaca de la Luna
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
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.
|ceramic Moche portrait
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
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