The village of Chavín de Huántar, located in an Andean valley at 10,430 feet above sea level, was constructed near one of the oldest and most intriguing of Peru's pre-Columbian sites.
Archeologists applied the name "Chavín" to the culture that developed here between 1500 and 300 BC. This powerful civilization extended up and down the Pacific Coast, as far north as Cajamarca and as far south as Pachacamac. Cultural hallmarks included stylized pottery, intricately carved stelae, and a complex religion of temple worship and oracles.
The site now known as Chavín de Huántar, developed in successive waves over twelve centuries, served as the culture's political and religious center. The site is located near the convergence of two rivers, a topographical feature ladened with cosmological significance—possibly the harmonious meeting of the self, or the union of opposing forces. The site also lies at the convergence of mountains, jungle, and coastal plain. Snowcapped Huantsan Peak, gleaming in the distance and reaching 20,896 feet above sea level, provided additional inspiration.
Highlights of the site include an enormous plateau pyramid, a circular plaza, subterranean galleries, zoomorphic carvings, a 12-foot granite monolith, stone staircases, and numerous temples. Some of the constructions are astonishingly complex; the Castillo temple is believed to have "roared" on demand as water was flushed through a network of stone-lined vents and drains.
Many of the structures are in a poor state of conservation—due in part to a 1945 landslide and a 1970 earthquake—but preservation efforts are improving. The National Museum of Chavín displays pottery, bas-reliefs, jewelry, and carved heads from the site. The museum's centerpiece is the massive Tello Obelisk, which was returned from the national archeological museum in Lima in 2008.
The closest airport to Chavin de Huantar is in Huaraz, about an hour's flight from Lima. The drive from Huaraz to the site takes approximately 2.5 hours, a significant portion of which is on winding, unpaved mountain roads.
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