he Amazon Region is one of Peru's least known regions, but it has over 500 archaeological sites, including all the different expressions of cultures, such as fortresses, sarcophagus burials, citadels, rock paintings, mortuary bundle cemeteries, etc., shrouding the territory in enchantment and mystery to the point that it has been the scenario for the discovery of a number of "lost cities, as from the 1950s.
Chachapoyas, located at 2,000 meters above sea level, is the regional capital city, 1,200 km from Lima by air, and also accessible by land from Cajamarca or Chiclayo. Its climate is rainy and it has lush vegetation, the best time for visiting being May through September when the weather is constantly warm (25°Celsius on average).
The most important tourist attraction in this area is the fortress of Kuelap,
an immense mass of 400 million cubic feet of building material (three times the volume of the great pyramid of Cheops in Egypt).
This major archaeological complex is located in the Tingo district of the province of Luya, Amazon Region. Its altitude is 2,900 meters above sea level, and it is on the mist-forest belt of northeastern Peru, located at 77°48'15" western longitude and 6°25'45" southern latitude.
The complex occupies the summit of an enormous crag, whose sides are covered with vegetation; it is surrounded by very deep and steep-walled canyons. To the east of the complex runs the Utcubamba river, and to the west and north the basin descends, the river flowing into the Tingo, which in turn runs south of the Selcas river; the complex is located 72 km from Amazonas city.
The most impressive aspect of this complex is its colossal size (582 meters long by 111 m wide); the first wall is 20 m high and sets the boundary between the "high town" and the "low town". This perimetral wall is festooned with bromelias, giving it a highly peculiar and singularly beautiful aspect. The limestone blocks used for building the complex are more finely finished in the case of the religious sanctuaries.
Kuelap was inhabited by a group forming a great curacazgo, in the territory of the ancient province of Luya y Chillao, belonging to the Chachapoyas nation. Its cultural heyday was from the 10th to the 15th century AD. It was conquered by the Inkas at the peak of its social development, this being necessary for them to proceed with the conquest of the kingdom of Quito (Ecuador) in Amazonia. Finally it was invaded by the Spaniards in the 16th century, in their search for the mythical "El Dorado". Before the construction of the fortress, the social predecessors of the Kuelap
builders, human groups who had settled the area as early as the 4th century BC, were already living there.
It was built by gradually raising a containment wall which was later filled with mud and stones to obtain a level surface for the dwellings and administrative and religious buildings. The circular shape of the buildings responded to their particular preference for round living spaces, differentiating them from other Andean and Amazonian cultures that preferred rectangular spaces. The architects of Kuelap
directed hundreds of specialists, stonemasons, bricklayers, and mud, water and stone carriers. There was also a support staff of farmers growing crops to feed the workers.
The construction of huge platforms and other high buildings allowed a greater view of the chain of ancient cities located on the surrounding peaks, as well as the access points to the river valleys of Marañon and Huallaga. The location was chosen for strategic reasons as a defense point for their territories as well as being a good vantage point from which they could control their trade routes. The architectural style as well as its hundreds of rooms point to its being a fortified city for defense and residential use.
The society inhabiting Kuelap
lived on agricultural production, interchange, hunting and the manufacture of ritual and domestic craft artifacts. They used the land around the fortress to grow their basic crops of corn, beans, tarhui, and several tubers and edible roots, such as potatoes, achira, mashua, olluco , arracacha , shascarrumi and yacon; they also controlled the land at the bottom of the river basins in their dominions, where they obtained yuca, camote, peanuts, cotton, tobacco and native fruits. They got their proteins from meat supplied by llamas, deer, cuy, majas and other mountain mammals whose bones have been found in the archaeological remains.
The discovery of trepanned human skulls in Kuelap
indicates that they had cranial surgery specialists who used complex and advanced techniques for the period, using the coca plant as an anesthetic, and very fine metal or stone instruments for their operations.
Currently only 40% of the fortress has been excavated, the remaining work being subject to the availability of the necessary equipment for the scientific work to be undertaken; you may, however, contact the team entrusted with watching over this archaeological marvel at the email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
At the bottom of Kuelap
, before starting on the ascent, there is a lodge where you can spend the night in a cozy environment. It is called ESTANCIA CHILLO
, and is located in the township of Tingo. Its website is: www.estanciachillo.com
. From this place you will take an improved pathway to the fortress, getting you there after a 2 ½ hour climb. However, some thirty minutes before reaching the fortress you will find a small complex of basic-service hotels.