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Who were the Chimu?

Updated: Oct 28, 2018

The Chimu Empire stretched over the coast of northern Peru for over 1300km and ruled across this vast desert coastal region for well over five centuries.

They were numerous, mighty, ingenious and powerful yet it’s hard to say why they never gained the kind of fame the Incas – their neighbours to the south – have enjoyed in our modern times.

The largest indigenous culture to have lived in the Andes, after the Incas, the Chimu have left us an incredible legacy of startling discoveries, with the magnificent adobe city of Chan Chan just the tip of the archaeological iceberg. Much like the ancient Inca, the Chimu were master farmers, coming up with ingenious irrigation systems that would work in the most inhospitable terrain and dedicating much time to perfect their artistic skills. The carefully carved treasures at Chan Chan impress even more than the expansive size of the city. It is magnificent beyond words.

Chimu Art

The capital Chan Chan quickly became a place of vast trade and master craftsmanship. The bureaucratic centre imported many raw materials from across Chimor, and distributed them to over 26,000 craftsman and women that lived in Chan Chan. Most of the population in the capital was made up of artisans, the majority of which were cherry picked, and forcibly removed, from surrounding conquered cities. Once an artisan was ‘placed’ they were unable to change their profession, and were grouped according to their area of specialisation.

The Chimu artisans were best known for their exquisite pottery and colourful textiles. Their pottery is characterised by it’s shiny black appearance, and is usually in the shape of an animal, or has a human figure sitting atop it’s rounded surface. In contrast, the Chimu textiles are extremely colourful, usually containing exotic feathers, precious metals and shells. Popular images used in Chimu artwork are double headed ‘rainbow’ snakes, geometric shapes, and open-armed figures adorned with large headdresses, assumed to represent the ruling class.

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