Trujillo, a bright a modern city on Peru’s north coast, is famous for ruins. Not only is the impressive adobe city of Chan Chan situated alongside the city, but on the other side can be found Las Huacas del Sol y de la Luna, two huge and fantastically preserved Moche temples.
So, the day after our exploration of the Chan Chan site, we hopped in a taxi from Trujillo’s city centre and headed to these temples about ten minutes outside of town.
Excavation is still continuing on the Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Sun), so you can only explore the interior of the Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon).
Both temples form a part of the Moche capital city of Cerro Blanco, a few ruins of which survive between the temples, and although the Huaca del Sol is the bigger temple, it was ransacked and partially destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors so it has provided a lot less information than the Huaca de la Luna.
The Huaca del Sol was an administrative type building belonging to the government or chiefs of the city, while the Huaca de la Luna was the religious centre and has the more interesting history.
We headed first into the museum, a large and well-designed building which put the museum of the Chan Chan site to shame, with tons of fantastic, detailed information and decent English translations (which makes learning so much easier!).
There are hundreds of artefacts at the museum, including lots of well-made pottery which was discovered in the temples and which has been used to decipher lots of information about the temples and the way of life of the Moche people.
We were particularly interested in learning about the human sacrifices which took place at the temple. There were two kinds; one ritual to appease the gods and maintain order, which was carried out regularly, and a more sporadic ritual to placate the anger of the gods during times of bad weather, such as the El Niño phenomenon which visits Peru every nine years.
Both types of sacrifices began with ritual fighting between warriors, in which the winner was the first to remove his opponent’s helmet and grab his hair. The losers were stripped and tied up, and then led to the priests in the temple.
After a few days spent “preparing” the unlucky losers were sacrificed to the gods. For the ‘normal’ ritual, the sacrifices would have their throats cut and the blood collected in a cup to be presented to the gods, then their bodies were buried. For the El Niño rituals, after their throats were cut the sacrifices’ bodies would be cut into pieces, and left on the side of the mountain for the mountain gods.
There was also a lot of information in the museum about the tombs found inside the temple, and how the items discovered with them helped to identify the bodies and what role they played in society. For example, the body of a woman was discovered surrounded by lots of pottery of a higher quality than usual, and also potter’s tools, suggesting that she was a highly skilled and revered potter given a tomb within the temple.
After the museum, we headed across the site to the Huaca de la Luna. You can only enter as part of a guided tour, and as the next English tour wasn’t for an indefinite amount of time (between twenty and ninety minutes depending on who we asked) we tagged along with the Spanish tour instead. Luckily, we weren’t the only non-Spanish speakers on the tour, so the guide spoke slowly and clearly and I actually managed to understand quite a bit of the information – unlike our tour in Chiclayo a few days before.
The interesting thing about the Huacas del Sol y de la Luna is how well the temples have been preserved. The Huaca de la Luna was actually built over by the Moche people, who would build a tomb, carve and decorate the walls, then seal it up inside adobe brick walls. The several layers of the temple, plus the mound of sand it was buried under until it’s discovery, have preserved the walls and carvings really well – including the original paint work in red, yellow, white and blue, which still survives. Since the temple dates from the Moche civilisation of 100 – 800 AD and has been buried under a sandy pyramid since then, this was particularly impressive; especially considering that many parts have not been restored at all and have been left as they were found.
The site of the Huacas del Sol y de la Luna were definitely the most impressive ruins we visited in Northern Peru, especially because the fantastic museum and clear tour guide meant that we learnt a lot more about the history and culture of the pre-Inca Moche civilisation that built them than we did at Chan Chan or the sites at Chiclayo.