Pachacamac: Ancient Ceremonial Center

Rímac valley1First settled around A.D. 200, Pachacamac became one of the longest continuously inhabited urban centers in the Andes, enduring and even thriving under various cultures for some 1,300 years. Named for the creator god Pachacamac, the site drew pilgrims who came to worship and to bury their dead. Overtaken by the Inca around 1470, it was one of the most sacred places in their empire until the Spanish conquest in the 1530s. 
 
When archaeologists began exploring the site in the 1890s they found a vast complex of monumental buildings and looted burials. At its heart lies an enigma: 18 mud-brick stepped pyramids with ramps and plazas.

This pre-Columbian monumental site covers an area of almost 600 hectares. It lies at the mouth of the Lurín River, close to the Pacific shore, some 30 km south of Lima and is considered to be one of the most important ancient settlements of the Central Andes, on a par with Machu Picchu, Tiahuanaco, Chavín de Huantar, Chan Chan and the Nazca Lines.

Rímac valley3The complex and extensive site (an estimated 5 km2 including a ca. 2.5 km2 core area) of Pachacamac on the central coast of Peru has long been regarded as the preeminent religious and/or pilgrimage center of pre-Hispanic Peru. The fame and power of its oracle and ancient temples, together with myths pertaining to its dualistic, telurian, patron deity, “Pachacamac,” have been described by both Spanish Colonial writers and modern scholars. This deity is said to have had the power, on the one hand, to create and sustain humans, nurture crops, and cure disease, and, on the other hand, to cause earthquakes, storms in the Pacific, and disease. In his 1534 report, Miguel Estete, for example, noted that many pilgrims from far and wide came there to pay respects, consult, and/or make offerings to the oracle at the Pachacamac (aka Painted) Temple in the innermost (westernmost) sacred precinct. Pedro Cieza de León (1553) and Pedro de la Gasca (1553) described how this sanctuary was surrounded by shelters for pilgrims and the tombs of noblemen and priests, who wished to be buried close to the deity they had worshipped.
The site of Pachacamac is organized into four major sectors by three concentric major walls (See the black and white map above right). The most sacred and apparently oldest sector (I) occupies the southernmost and highest area with an excellent view of the Pacific. Its perimeter wall encloses a roughly trapezoidal area (ca. 470 m x 400 m) containing (a) the Temple of the Sun of the Inca empire, (b) the Pachacamac Temple (a.k.a. Painted Temple) of the Pachacamac II culture, and (c) the Old Pachacamac Temple (a.k.a. Lima Temple) of the Wari-influenced Pachacamac I culture and preceding late Lima culture. Another late Lima temple is believed to lie beneath the Sun Temple. The Lima constructions utilize "adobitos"  or small hand-shaped adobes.

At that time the lower Rímac and Lurín valleys were under the dominion of a stratified polity whose centee was situated in the Rímac valley. The Lima culture, as it is known, was characterized by a specific ceramic style and huge adobe-made platform mounds. Lima buildings at Pachacamac include the Old Temple of Pachacamac, a small building called the “Conjunto de adobitos”, other platform mounds and cemeteries.

Read more: Archeological Complex of PachaCamac