A Detour to Chavín de Huantar

After acclimatizing in Paron lake, Peter and me we were not quite ready to do trekking yet. We wanted to explore more lakes and do some walking through valleys and ravines but we decided to make a quick detour to The Callejón de Conchucos and visit Chavín de Huantar. Virtually inactive in the wet season, and off the beaten track even for the most hardened of backpackers, the valley represents quite a challenge. We took a four-hour bus drive from Huaraz to Chavín. It is a rough journey so we thought it would be best to stay overnight at the village of Chavín de Huantar; but if you are short of time, you can sightsee the ruins in one day; providing you leave very early in the morning and return very late.

Landscape in the way to Chavin de Huantar

Landscape on the way to Chavín de Huantar

The archaeological site of Chavín gave its name to the culture that developed between 1500 BC and 300 BC in this high valley of the Peruvian Andes. This former place of worship is one of the earliest and best-known Pre-Columbian sites. Its appearance is striking, with the complex of terraces and squares, surrounded by structures of dressed stone, and the mainly zoomorphic ornamentation (animal representations). Most theories agree that the Chavín people worshiped three major gods: the moon (represented by a fish), the sun (depicted as an eagle or a hawk) and an overlord, or divine creator, normally shown as a fanged cat, possibly a jaguar. It seems very likely that each god was linked to a distinct level of the Chavín cosmos: the fish with the underworld, the eagle with the celestial forces and the cat with the earthly power. There have been lots of different cultures all over Peru before the Incas arrived and the Incas probably took some of the traditions of those cultures when they ruled Peru. This is one of the reasons why we made this interesting detour to appreciate a significant piece of inspiration for the Inca Empire.

The temple at Chavín de Huantar

The temple at Chavín de Huantar

Chavin Chavin

Behind the temple, two entrances lead to the underground passages. One of the passages leads down to an underground chamber, containing the inspiring Lanzón, a 4.53m prism-shaped block of carved white granite that tapers down from a broad feline head to a point stuck in the ground. The Lanzón has been interpreted variously as a principal deity of Chavín, an oracle with the power to speak (thanks to a hole in the roof of the chamber), a symbol of trade, fertility, dualism, and humankind’s interaction with nature, or any combination of these.

The Lanzon stela within its chamber

The Lanzón within its chamber

The entrance on the left takes you into the labyrinthine inner chambers where you will need a torch to get a decent look at the carvings and granite sculptures (even when the installed electric lighting is switched on), while all around you can hear the sound of water dripping.

One of the subterranean rooms

One of the subterranean rooms

Subterranean room. Inside a labyrinthine

Subterranean room. Inside a labyrinthine

The most vivid of the carvings remaining at the site are the gargoyles heads (known as Cabezas Clavas), guardians of the temple that display feline and bird-like characteristics. This feline deity was almost certainly associated wit the Shamanic practice of transformation from human into animal form for magical and healing purposes; the most powerful animal form that could be assumed, of course, was the big cat, whether a puma or a jaguar.

In the 1920s archaeologist Julio C Tello found 42 ball heads, they were originally embedded in the facade of the Temple. To accommodate these and other parts of the Chavín culture, Tello acclimated a place as a museum, but they all disappeared in the flood of 1945 that covered the archaeological site. Currently, there are only replicas. The one below is the only original head that still remains on its original site.

Cabezas Clavas

Cabezas Clavas (Most of the original head had terrified expressions to keep the spirits away except this one)
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2 responses to “A Detour to Chavín de Huantar

  1. Yes they are! When you look at the complex from outside it is not as impressive as from inside. There are many subterranean rooms and a network of cut-rock tunnels with carvings and sculptures. Unfortunately this place has been affected by many earthquakes and floods during the years and many objects disappears or they have been stolen.

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