Monday, September 2, 2013

Plaza Mayor, Lima, Peru

In the center of Lima is the lovely Plaza de Armas, also called Plaza Mayor, where in 1535 Francisco Pizarro founded the city which became the center of the Spanish empire in South America. It's said that in the colonial era this was the site of the market, bull pen, and executions.

No original buildings remain, due to earthquakes and fires, but this bronze fountain was erected in 1650 and serves as a perch for birds. The Cathedral is in the background.

The Cathedral sits on the site of the first church built here in 1535. It has been rebuilt in 1551, in 1622, and after earthquakes of 1687 and 1746. The last major restoration was in 1940.

Many of the buildings surrounding the plaza are painted a canary yellow, though the public buildings are not painted, such as the Cathedral, Archbishop's Palace, and Palacio del Gobierno.

The colonial architecture included these Moorish style balconies, where upper class women could see out but maintain privacy within.

The Palacio del Gobierno is where the president of Peru, Ollanta Humala, lives. Every day at noon there is a ceremonial changing of the guard, preceded by about 30 minutes of band music. The musicians parade up to the front gate, where they stand on a raised platform and perform. I recorded two short videos here: Video no. 1. Video no. 2.

During the changing of the guard and band concert, the streets around the Plaza are closed to traffic. Several armed police and soldiers are in place, and this horse patrol circles the Plaza.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The 26 pyramids of Túcume

Túcume is in the desert of northern Peru, a few miles inland from the coast, and is a little studied archeological site on about 500 acres of 26 crumbling adobe structures. It was the final capital of the Sicán culture, descendants of the Moche people who flourished in the region from about 750 to 1375 AD. The structures look like giant melting ice cream cones due to erosion over the centuries. They were built using hundreds of thousands of adobe bricks. Each brick has a stamp which identifies the family responsible for making it. The pyramids functioned as ceremonial and funerary sites. The roof on top is where archeologists are working.

The Sicán people were known for their agricultural achievements and for an advances in metallurgy. They used a lost-wax (mold cast) technique to produce gold ornaments and the manufacture of arsenical copper, which is the closest material to bronze found in pre-Columbian societies. They produced alloys of gold, silver and copper in vast quantities. The wood from algarrobo (carob) trees seen here was used to achieve 1000º centigrade temperatures needed for this work. The fire was created by men blowing through ceramic pipes. It can't have been a healthy occupation.

The Sicán engaged in long distance trade, acquiring prized spondylus shells from Ecuador, emeralds and diamonds from Colombia, lapis stone from Chile, and gold from the Peruvian highlands. This culture was absorbed by the Chimú people who ruled here until about 1470 AD.

Our tour group is headed toward the hill above, known as Purgatory Hill. It is said that the Spanish dressed as demons atop the hill and threw non believers to their deaths below.

We were satisfied with reaching the first lookout, and passed on the upper segment. We could look for miles around the Lambayeque Valley, one of the largest on the coast of Peru.

There is some archeological work being done here. But the challenge in Peru is that this requires careful and expensive work. And when artifacts are discovered, they must be preserved in museums that require funds on a large scale. Much history still lies under tons of adobe in many regions of the country. New locations are still being discovered.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pimentel, Peru

The fishing village and beach town of Pimentel is on the north coast of Peru, almost 500 miles north of the country's capital of Lima. Just inland is the city of Chiclayo, where I recently spent a few days touring archeological sites. Peruvians eat a lot of fish, and their coastline provides an endless supply. I was hungry this day, so I hopped on a little bus (combi) and headed out to the beach.

These one-person boats are called "caballitos de totora," or "little tule horses." It sounds much better in Spanish. Peruvians have been using these since long before the Spanish arrived in the 16th century. In fact, the conquistador Pizarro encountered a large tule raft-boat with about 20 men on the open sea in the early 1500s before landing on the coast of Ecuador. It carried goods for trade between Peru and Ecuador, including elaborate gold and silver objects and textiles. The boat carried a woven cotton sail. This gave Pizarro and his men good reason to push ahead and learn more of this apparently advanced culture. The caballitos have a pointy bow and blunt stern to be able to maneuver on the rough waves. On Lake Titicaca in the mountains they are made with the same materials but have two pointy ends (There must be a more sophisticated term than pointy.)

After a delicious lunch of ceviche on the waterfront I walked out to the beach. The fishermen were returning with their catch around 2:30pm.

Then they haul out their boats and the women come to help sort and prepare the fish for sale to the local restaurants.

Today this boat brought in dozens of small crab.

Fresh fish for sale

This is just a small glimpse of the waterfront, which has many small restaurants ready to serve fresh fish. My guess is that most is served raw, that is, as ceviche cured in lime juice with red onion and spicey chiles. On the side is some delicious Peruvian corn and camote (sweet potato).

This is a little park near the action

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Cumbe Mayo and Bosque de Piedras

The Bosque de Piedras (Stone Forest) is an area about 12 miles from Cajamarca, Peru, where there is a proliferation of stone outcropping. It is perched on the Andes at a point where water drains to the Atlantic and to the Pacific, a continental divide. There is evidence that people have used this natural phenomenon for religious purposes for milenia.

Ancient culture flourished in the Cajamarca region for thousands of years. It became an administrative center of Wari culture, which flourished about 500-1000 AD. This was a period of empire building in the south-central Andes and coastal area of modern-day Peru. Extensive road building and terrace agriculture were two major features of the Wari. Centuries later, the Inca expanded this empire and the network of roads, extending from Quito, Ecuador to central Chile.

The stone forest comprises many unusual natural formations. Some niches were used for ceremonial purposes, as evidenced by ancient carvings in the stone. My tour group is about to pass through a narrow passageway through the rock. It is completely dark inside, with a curve and uneven terrain. Fortunately it is a rather short passage, though spooky.

We successfully pass through to the other side of the forest.

This young girl is spinning wool, probably alpaca, posing for tips from tourists. The large hat is worn by indigenous women, though usually not by girls. I was told that the hat is a measure of wheat in the village market. Bright colors are typical in the dress of women in the Andes mountains.

These strange natural rock formations suggest figures of animals, though I don't see any in this photo.

Cumbe Mayo is located about 12 miles (19 km) southwest of the city of Cajamarca, at an elevation of approximately 11,000 feet (3,300 meters). The location is best known for the ruins of a Pre-Incan aqueduct stretching approximately five miles in length. The aqueduct collected water from the Atlantic watershed and redirected it on its way to the Pacific Ocean. It is thought to have been constructed around 1500 B.C. and was once thought to be the oldest existing man-made structure in South America. The name Cumbe Mayo may be derived from a Quechua phrase, kumpi mayu, meaning “well-made water channel,” or humpi mayo, meaning “thin river.” (courtesy Wikipedia)

This zig-zag in the course of the aqueduct had a specific purpose, causing a whirlpool which would affect the speed of the water. In some places the channel narrows which causes the water to run faster and thus rise in elevation. And this channel ran for five miles!

There are a number of petroglyphs on the aqueduct and surrounding caverns.

The weather here in the austral winter is dry and clear, with cool evenings and warm days. The 4-hour tour was led by Miguel, an expert in ancient history of the area, and we were a group of about 20 tourists.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The fall of the Inca empire

Inca emperor Atahualpa

Ancient culture flourished in the Cajamarca region in the northern highlands of Peru from about four thousand years ago. It was an administrative center of Wari culture that flourished throughout Peru about 600-1100 AD. The Inca conquered the area in 1460, and it became a major city on the road between Quito and Cuzco.

Gardens at Baños del Inca
When the Inca emperor Atahualpa was en route from Quito to Cuzco in 1532 he stopped over in Cajamarca to rest with his troops, estimated at around 40,000 to 80,000 men. They were camped at a place now called the Inca Baths (Baños del Inca). 

These steaming pools are fed by very hot thermal water from volcanic sources nearby. A public pool is nearby and is very popular with the locals.

This was the emperor's private bathing pool, located probably within his sumptuous quarters.

 The Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro arrived on November 16, 1532. This was the first encounter between the Spanish and Peruvian forces, and was the beginning of the end of the mighty Inca empire based in Cuzco. 

Though the Spanish had only 168 men and horses and guns, the thousands of Inca troops were overwhelmed by the tactics of the Spanish. Atahualpa was imprisoned and held for ransom. The emperor agreed to have gold and silver objects brought from distant locations. He was to be freed after filling a room full of the precious metal. The room in which he was held for a year is the only surviving Inca building in Cajamarca.

Cuarto de Rescate, Cajamarca
Pizarro did not keep his word, and when they had collected their fill of gold and silver Atahualpa was executed. I recently visited the Cathedral of  Córdoba, Spain, located in the middle of the Mezquita, an ancient Moslim mosque, where there is a permanent exhibit of gold and silver objects fashioned from the melted Inca objects. It was a chilling experience knowing that the church had accumulated tons of Inca gold and silver to serve their purposes in Spain.

Not far from the main Plaza in Cajamarca is the Belén complex, consisting of a church and hospital built on the site of ancient Inca buildings that were destroyed. It was constructed between 1627 and 1774, using local volcanic rock.

My guidebook states that on the façade of the Belén church is a statue of a woman with four breasts, an affliction of women in a nearby village.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ventanillas de Otuzco

About five miles northeast of Cajamarca is the village of Otuzco, set in a fertile, green valley.

The people who lived in this region of the northern highlands of Peru for milenia are referred to historically as the Cajamarca culture. The Wari conquered this area about two thousand years ago and made Cajamarca one of their many administrative centers, connecting by road with the Wari capital in Ayacucho. The Inca conquered the region in 1460 AD, connecting their capital in Cuzco with Quito, Ecuador. The Spanish, led by Francisco Pizarro, took over in 1540.

The Ventanillas (“little windows”) of Otuzco is a large stone outcropping that was used for burials. This huge necropolis consists of 337 graves sculpted in the rock, superimposed one on top of the other and protected against the rain with narrow channels.

The niches have been looted long ago. It seems that the elite were first interred in the ground. The body was then exhumed, and the cleaned bones were placed in a niche, which was then sealed.

Most niches appear rather shallow, with room for the bones only. Others are reported to contain galleries of graves that extend 33 feet into the rock. A few (as in the center of the photo) were not completed, and are shallow depressions in the rock.

The reddish color is the lichens growing on the rock.

This ragtag group of boys entertained us with a typical Andean folksong. A short video is available here.

This is typical construction in the area. The adobe bricks are made from the local soil. The layers are separated by stones, allowing air to flow.

After visiting the Ventanillas, our tour group stopped at the Jardín de Hortensias (hydrangea gardens) to see the flower gardens, sample some local food and drink, and to buy handicrafts. Click here to see photos of the gardens with text in Spanish.

Food is available for purchase, such as fried pork (chicharrones) and corn tamales (humitas)

Cuy (guinea pig in English) was domesticated thousands of years ago in the Andes mountains in the region of Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. They are commonly found in households as pets and as a food source. They are herbivores, living off kitchen scraps, and are part of the Andean diet. They contain high amounts of omega 3, low in fat, and high in proteins.

Fried cuy (courtesy Wikipedia)