Chiclayo – Señor de Sipán – Túcume

Chiclayo, with 630,000 inhabitants, has the nickname “Capital de la Amistad” (City of Friendship).

Nevertheless, it is not just the friendliness of its inhabitants that attracts visitors to Chiclayo, but rather the spectacular finds from pre-Hispanic times scattered around it. Even after it was founded as “Santa Maria en los Valles de Chiclayo” by Spanish missionaries in the early 18th century, it remained a settlement of the indigenous population and a strategically important post at the meeting point of important trade routes between coast, jungle and highlands. The prospering Chiclayo was only recognized as a city in the 19th century, and the cathedral also dates back to this late period (1869) by Peruvian standards.

Of more recent date is the “Paseo de las Musas”, a park with a collection of neoclassical marble statues of figures from Greek mythology gathered here for unknown reasons. But the main attraction for visitors and tourists is Chiclayos “Mercado Modelo” with its “witch market” “Mercadillo de Brujas”, a few blocks north of the Plaza.

Tumbas Reales del Señor de Sipán

Situated 33 km east of Chiclayo, Sipán was the site of the spectacular discovery in 1987 of an intact grave of a Moche ruler and other graves of high-ranking members of the Moche elite, which had not been looted. Under a weathered pyramid the archaeologists of the Brüning Museum around Walter Alva made a find which was celebrated by the experts as an archaeological sensation and compared with Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun.

By systematically researching the graves one could learn more about the Moche society than from thousands of finds which are exhibited without archaeological connection in the museums. Thus, the existence of complex burial rites proved that the Mochica were a highly differentiated society in which political and religious roles were clearly defined. The most senior members of the ruling elite were either priests (as in Huaca de la Luna), religious bureaucrats (as in Huaca de la Cruz), nobles (as in San Jose de Moro), or warriors (as in Sipán).

In the case of the Ruler of Sipán, the number of people buried with him and the quantity and quality of the burial objects alone leave no doubt as to his social status. The crescent-shaped ritual sacrificial knife (“tumi”), which hangs from his belt and is also the main part of his headdress, the rattles, large ear and nose rings, were the insignia of a warlord. The sceptre ending at the lower end as a tumi symbolizes his power over the life and death of his vassals. The rattle at the upper end of the sceptre shows the capture of a defeated warrior to be sacrificed. Once the dead ruler’s body had been bedded on a wooden platform, his face was covered with embossed gold plates that trace the shape of his eyes, nose and chin in detail. He holds an oval gold bar in his right hand and a silver bar in his left.

After the body of the dead ruler had been laid out in the middle of the burial chamber, his sarcophagus was surrounded by those of his relatives and bodyguards, some of whom had died months or even years before. The female corpses were buried in the opposite direction to that of the ruler. A sacrificed Lama was to serve as a means of transport to the world beyond. The niches on the sides of the burial chamber were filled with pots and jugs which probably contained “Chicha de Jora” (fermented maize beer) or blood of sacrificial animals.

In 1990 two more graves were discovered near the first site, those of the “priest” and the “old ruler”. In the first, a metal cup with a lid was found, which the dead man held in his right hand. In Moche art such a cup is often depicted in sacrificial scenes and ritual libations in which the cup is moved between the so-called “rayed sun god” and the “warrior priest”. Since there were no weapons of attack in the tomb, it was concluded that this person only had religious functions.

The tomb of the old prince differed from the ones found before. Originally the burial chamber was elliptical and smaller, but although it was older than the others, it was better preserved. Ceramics were also found here as burial objects, but they were stylistically very different from the others. The only companions of the old ruler were a young woman, about 16-18 years old, and a llama. Although this tomb was smaller, simpler and without the many secondary burials, the grave goods were extremely rich and complex. In addition, some of the finds corresponded to those of the Lord of Sipán. Thus it was concluded that the burial site here was of the same rank as the Señor of Sipán, except that the grave was much older. In the course of time, the complexity of the elite graves seems to have increased. In the meantime, DNA analyses have shown that the old ruler was a blood relative of the ruler, who lived four generations before him.


In the valley of Lambayeque, about 33 km northwest of Chiclayo, 26 clay pyramids of the Lambayeque culture have been uncovered on an area of 220 hectares. The Huaca Larga, with its enormous dimensions of 700 metres length, 100 metres width and 40 metres height, is considered the largest adobe pyramid in the world. Around 800 AD, the Lambayeque and Sicán cultures penetrated the power vacuum that the Mochica had left behind after the fall of the Moche culture.

The construction of the pyramids from unfired clay bricks dates back to the period between 1000 and 1300 AD. In contrast to other pyramid-building cultures, the monumental buildings had no purely ritual function, rather their large, flattened platforms were inhabited and functioned as the upper town of the elites. The modern scientific study of Túcume only began shortly before the turn of the last century and is confronted with the dilemma that excavations, by removing the once protective surface layer, contribute to the further erosion of the buildings, which are difficult to deal with due to the climatic conditions, especially in the so-called El Niño years. There is a small local museum, reopened in 2014 after extensive reconstruction, which exhibits the replicas of some friezes.