A Quick Guide to Chan Chan's Climate Crisis

How the Chimú Empire's ancient capital is preserving its heritage

World Map, 5 heritage sitesCyArk

Where is Chan Chan?

Where is Chan Chan?

The ancient capital of the Chimú Empire, Chan Chan (meaning Sun Sun in the Chimú tongue) was once the largest earthen architecture city in pre-Columbian America before its decline in the 15th century. At its height, the city was home to up to 40,000 people from across the Chimú Empire which extended over 1000 kilometres from southern Peru to Ecuador.

Chan Chan VRCyArk

When did Chan Chan become a World Heritage Site?

Chan Chan Archaeological Site was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1986. Over 100,000 people visit the site every year to gain a better understanding of the lives of those who built one of the most powerful empires in pre-Columbian America.

Excavations are ongoing at the archaeological complext by CyArkCyArk

What climate issues is Chan Chan facing?

Chan Chan is particularly vulnerable to the extreme weather events caused by El Niño, a climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean, including increased precipitation leading to the erosion of the adobe architecture and a rise in the water table at the site.

Huaca de la Luna, Chan Chan by CYArkCyArk

How is this affecting Chan Chan's heritage?

In February 2010, torrential rains tore through coastal Peru, scouring intricately carved five-hundred-year-old reliefs crafted at the height of the Chimú Empire. The storm in 2010 was just one of many weather events that has threatened the site’s cultural heritage.

Huaca de la Luna painted walls, Chan Chan by CyArkCyArk

How is this threatening Chan Chan's architecture?

At the time of the property’s inscription, the World Heritage Committee decided to also inscribe it on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to the deterioration of mud brick architecture, resulting from its vulnerability to climatic conditions caused by the El Niño phenomenon and issues of inappropriate development and plundering.

Laser scanning at Chan Chan by CyArkCyArk

How is Chan Chan responding to this threat?

After being added to the Endangered World Heritage list, a global effort was initiated to protect the site.The local branch of the Peruvian Ministry of Culture (Dirección Desconcentrada de Cultura La Libertad) has taken concrete steps to better protect the archaeological site including installing protective roof coverings, ensuring ancient drainage systems are clear of debris and designing new systems of drainage when needed.  

Walking over the lunar landscape at Palacio Rivero by CyArk and Chan ChanCyArk

Weather monitoring stations have also been installed throughout the site and 3D digital documentation efforts are completed routinely to better understand the mechanisms occurring throughout the ancient city. 

Eroding open air architecture at Chan Chan by CyArkCyArk

What more can be done?

Local site managers continue to explore innovative ways to protect the 14-square-kilometer ancient earthen city from the unprecedented impacts of climate change.

Discover more

Discover how CyArk uses 3D documentation to empower local experts.

Find out more about ICOMOS' efforts to increase engagement of cultural heritage in climate action here.

Credits: Story

Milagros Flores, ICOMOS and President, ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Fortifications and Military Heritage.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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