THE CHACHAPOYAS AND THEIR GREAT
AND AMAZINGS CONTRUCTIONS
Chachapoyas, a small city founded in 1538 by Alonso de Alvarado and the present capital of the Amazonian Region, was linked to the capital by air in 1930 and by land in 1960, when an improved dirt road enabled its access by vehicle. This city is now being rediscovered as an important archaeological complex, since there are some 500 sites in the area pertaining to the Chachapoyas culture, including tombs, sarcophagi, fortresses, isolated towers, roads, rock carvings and paintings, textiles, ceramics, and other remains proving the importance and degree of development of this indomitable culture that gave the Inca Empire so many headaches; this small, enchanting city retains many colonial features; we can see houses with large patios and a central pool, built in adobe, and multicolored flowers everywhere. To date, the archaeological remains have been little explored, due to which there are very few classical tourism circuits. However, many of the ruins are open to exploration, and very few of them have been visited, for which reason we provide a brief description below:
Chachapoyas was the center of a region that developed a civilization along the lines of that of the Incas, even duplicating their development at some points of its history; although they started developing in the 1st century of our era, their most perfect buildings were made in the 9th and 15th centuries. The Incas, during the expansion of their empire had great difficulty in subjecting the Chachapoyas (Sachapuyas), who were finally subdued by the Inca Tupac Yupanqui around 1,475, after long, bloody and hard-fought battles; however, they were always mutinying, right up to the 1532 episode in Cajamarca, between Pizarro and Atahualpa, where they sided with the conquistadors against the Incas and refused to take part in Manco Inca's 1536 rebellion against the Spaniards. The Chachapoyas culture began to flourish at the beginnings of the Christian era: their artists, textile workers, goldsmiths, masons and other craftsmen were extremely skilled, just as much as those of the Chimu empire. However, above all, they built one of the greatest fortresses in pre-Columbian Peru whose imposing ruins overlook the accesses to the Maraņon area. The remains found are clearly influenced by the Chimu and the Incas, with funereal constructions on high, inaccessible cliffs. The most important sites are distributed over the narrow valley of the Utcubamba river. Among them may be found:
The fortress of KUELAP
One can get here from two different directions. From the southwest, coming from Cajamarca and Celendin up to past the bridge and township of Balsas, Abra de Chanchillo (2,212 meters above sea level), Abra Barro Negro (3,580 meters above sea level), Leimebamba, Tingo, Maria, to Kuelap.
From the north from Chachapoyas, Tingo, Maria, to Kuelap; to get to Chachapoyas you can travel overland from Chiclayo, Olmos, Abra de Porculla Bagua, Pedro Ruiz Gallo, to Chachapoyas, or by air direct from Lima to Chachapoyas.
These archaeological remains are among the most important ones in the north of the country and, located at an altitude of 3,050 meters above sea level, were discovered in 1843 by Juan Crisostomo Nieto. In 1967, in view of the fact that the ruins were totally covered by vegetation and many buildings were visibly deteriorating, clearing work was started. Kuelap was probably the capital of the immense Chachapoyas kingdom. The Incas only had limited success in subduing them because of their indomitable character; however, under the reign of Huayna Capac at the beginning of the 16th century the Chachapoyas built this major fortress measuring 500 by 110 meters, with 20 meter-high walls. The material they used was a pink granite in blocks cemented with yellow clay. The main defense walls are made of over 100,000 blocks of carved stone and are estimated to weigh 10,000 tons. Within the fortress there are 34 round enclosures in a lower and upper area; it is estimated to have sheltered some 2000 inhabitants.
The Mausoleums of REVASH
South of the fortress of Kuelap, another important site is the funereal city of Revash, consisting of various clusters of mausoleums built into steep rock cliffs. Known as from French explorer Charles Wiener's visit in 1881, this complex was researched in 1987 during a Peruvian expedition.
The mausoleums are miniature versions of dwelling houses, and the whole effect is that of a tiny town with buildings overlaid with carved stones cemented with clay and covered with red rock paintings representing felines, llamas and undecipherable characters as well as cross-shaped and rectangular geometrical designs.
The KARAJIA Sarcophagi
These sarcophagi are located at around 2,600 meters above sea level, at the summit of a crag, facing an imposing expanse of vegetation. Our route starts at Estancia El Chillo. From this point we continue northwards to Caclic for one and a half hours along an improved dirt road, and then northwest to Luya for three quarters of an hour along another improved road, followed by almost an hour (50 minutes) to Cohechan; then northward to San Miguel de Cruzpata for another 5 minutes along an improved raod and finally a 50 minute walk up to the Karajia sarcophagi along hairpin mountain roads.
The Condores Lagoon
This impressive necropolis is located in the south of Leymebamba region on a rocky cliff overlooking the Condores Lagoon; archaeologist Federico Kauffman Doig discovered this site in Mayo 1997, halfway up a precipice. Inside the tiny "chullpas", or funereal mausoleums he found around 280 mummies wrapped in their shrouds. Currently, thanks to international agreements, a museum has been built in Leimebamba for the safekeeping of all the mummies found in the area. Likewise, there are a number of guides available to lead expeditions along a demanding trail that means a day and a half of difficult walking and/or riding.
Makro: From Estancias Chillo northeast to Tingo and then east to Magdalena (20' by improved road), then from Magdalena northeast to the citadel of Makro, a two-hour walk along a hairpin trail.
Pitaya: From Tingo north to Caclic and then one and a half hours along a wagon trail to the Pitaya rock engravings.