ART OF THE ANDEAN CIVILIZATIONS – Resurgence of the Regional Cultures (1200-1400)

Top Left: Pre-Columbian Sican culture gold cups found in Lambayeque, Peru (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Top Right: Pre-Columbian Peruvian Chancay pottery representing a man carrying a lama. Bottom Left: Chimu Chancay textiles from Peru. Bottom Right: General view of the Pre-Columbian ruins of Kuntur Wasi, Otuzco (Cajamarca, Peru).

Tiahuanaco began to expand its territories by the ninth century, but after three centuries of conquest the empire suffered a weakening. Huari was partially abandoned and other regional cultures regained their independence creating states that showed an advanced urban phase. In the North, near what once was the Moche empire, the Chimu kingdom was born; on the river Jequetepeque near the coast, the culture of Lambayeque with its typical goldsmithing was established; in the sierra was the Cajamarca culture and to the northwest, in the tropical zone, are the remains of Abiseo in the Pajatén region. These ruins astonish by its originality, they have circular platforms made of cut stone on whose walls human figures, condors and decorative borders were represented. In the center of the Andean zone was Chancay important for its textiles and anthropomorphic pottery. On the south coast, where the Nazcas once flourished, the Ica culture was born. In the Bolivian highlands, the “Colla kingdom” or Chullpas culture appeared. Some of these regional states were small and anarchic, others like the Chimu state, were great empires although in the middle of the fifteenth century all of them were eventually summoned by the Incas.


The Chimu Kingdom

The Chimu culture was born in the late thirteenth century. It occupied the same area occupied by the Moche culture and received from it some cultural elements, such as the language and veneration of Ai-aepec and the Moon. Its pottery received elements of both the Moche tradition and the Lambayeque goldsmithing. Among its traditions was the legendary figure of Naymlap, who came from the sea and is the founder of the northern dynasties. The Chimus survived until the year 1460, when the Incas conquered the city of Chan-chan by then capital of the empire.

The Chimu culture was an urban culture that was known through the great cities they built, the most important of which was Chan-chan located a few kilometers from the present city of Trujillo (Peru). It consisted of ten neighborhoods surrounded by very high walls; the whole construction was in adobe and is presumed that the roofs were made of straw. The neighborhoods were separated from each other and all had a similar arrangement with two courtyards: the main one, with its walls decorated with clay reliefs representing fish, pelicans and simple staggered motifs, and near this courtyard was the ceremonial center, also decorated. All the neighborhoods included a cemetery, a pyramid or shrine and a large water reservoir consisting of a well capable of supplying water not only to quench the thirst of the inhabitants but to maintain some gardens in the middle of the desert. Chan-chan covered an area of ​​20 km and is believed to have reached a population of 50000 inhabitants. Near the city there were several shrines being the most famous the “Huaca del Obispo” and the “Huaca del Dragón”. Other important Chimu cities were Pa-catnamú and Purgatorio.

The Chimu ceramic was made in molds and was generally black with metallic luster. Gold and silver were finely worked producing the most beautiful pieces of all Peru. The gold was worked by the techniques of hammering and laminating and with it they made ceremonial vessels, funeral masks, sequins and threads to embellish fabrics.

Top Left: Peruvian Chimu Blackware pottery. Top Right: Ruins of the city of Chan Chan the ancient capital of the Chimu Kingdom and once the largest city in Pre-Columbian America (1100 – 1470 AD.,  La Libertad Region, Trujillo, Peru). Bottom Left: Reliefs at the “Huaca del Dragon” at the ruins of Chan Chan. Bottom Right: View of the “Huaca del Obispo” within the Chan Chan city ruins.


The Colla kingdom

Towards 1200 AD, in the South, the Colla kingdom appeared around Lake Titicaca. This kingdom was formed by several warrior towns, product of the disaggregation of Tiahuanaco. Its pottery was very varied and its architecture was characterized by fortresses called “pucaras*“. These fortresses were natural hills provided with walls made of cut stone; apparently they were built to stop the advance of the Incas. The Chullpas* towers are typical of this culture, these were burial chambers where they placed their dead. These chambers had a rectangular plan and were built in adobe, in their construction they also employed a false vault. Some of these stone-carved Chullpas reveal the Inca influence, as in the case of those of Sillustani that also had a circular floor plan.

Top Left: An example of the Chimu civilization gold artifacts and engraving. Top Right: Pukara de Quitor, a pre-Columbian archaeological site in northern Chile. Bottom Left: Chullpas or funerary towers of the Aymara in Peru. Bottom Right: Chullpas in Sillustani on the shores of Lake Umayo near Puno, Peru.


Pukara: (Aymara and Quechuan “fortress”), refers to the fortifications made by the natives of the central Andean cultures and particularly to those of the Inca Empire.

Chullpa: An ancient Aymara funerary tower originally constructed for a noble person or noble family. The Chullpas are found across the Altiplano in Peru and Bolivia. The tombs at Sillustani are the most famous. Corpses in each tomb were typically placed in a fetal position along with some of their belongings, including clothing and common equipment. Mainly, the only opening to the tomb faces the rising sun in the east.