Ruins of Pachacamac

October 29th, 2008

Part of the Lima PreColombina series

The history of pre-Hispanic Lima is deeply entwined with Pachacamac. Worshipped across the central Andes since before the Inca conquest, the powerful creator god Pacha Kamaq is even revered today, almost 500 years after the Spanish conquest by Catholics in Lima. Today this powerful being has taken shape as the Cristo Morado and has been absorbed into Catholicism, and just as he is today, this ancient figure was also known as the Lord of the Earthquakes.

Two thousand years before Christ, the first ceremonial centres were built in the Lurín valley, constructed by people who’s descendants would eventually become, a couple of thousand years later, known as the Lima. The Lima’s society spanned from the valley of Chillón in the north to the valley of Lurín in the south. During this period at least one pyramid was build at this southern centre of power, and the population that lived around it dedicated themselves to worshipping Pacha Kamaq. We now refer to this ancient centre of worship as the Sanctuary of Pachacamac.

God of the Earth, this creator god worshipped by ancient Peruvians had the power to make the earth fertile but also to shake it violently with all his strength. Pacha Kamaq was not a god that people loved, he was not a caring nurturing father of the land, he was feared for the destruction he could cause in the form of earthquakes. People pleaded with him not to cause them harm.


Wari-period Templo Pintado, as it looked after excavation

Wari-period Templo Pintado, as it looked after excavation

The Wari (Huari), an Andean people who were also believers in Pacha Kamaq, formed what was perhaps the Andes’ first real empire. From Ayacucho they spread out to eventually take control of the sanctuary of Pachacamac, during which time it became the most important religious centre in all Peru. Pachacamac grew into a large city and more temples and pyramids were built. Left in a position of wealth and power, when the Wari Empire collapsed Pachacamac remained strong and important, receiving constant streams of pilgrims from across the Andes. People came from great distances to leave offerings in what we call today the Templo Viejo.


When the Incas brought Pachacamac under their control in the 1400s with an army led by Tupac Yupanqui, a task far easier than with the Guarco (Huarco) further south, the Incas were the ones forced to adapt. The Incas were foreigners throughout the vast majority of what is modern day Peru and their beliefs and religion were quite different.

The Templo del Sol, the huge Inca shrine to the sun

The Templo del Sol, the huge Inca shrine to the sun

While the majority of Andean peoples north west of Lake Titicaca and Cusco worshipped Pachamama and Pachacamac, the Incas were sun worshippers, praying to their god the Inti who gave them light and life. But such was the strength and numbers of those who followed Pachacamac, the Incas were forced to bring this god into their own belief system and stories in order to control the population. Inti, the sun god, became the father of Pachacamac. The Inti was benevolent while Pachacamac was the feared bringer of earthquakes. The Incas build a number of new constructions at Pachacamac, including the Templo Nuevo, the Templo del Sol and the site’s famous Acllawasi.


A year after Francisco Pizarro and his men arrived in Peru and captured Atahualpa, holding him ransom for rooms filled of gold and silver, the first Spaniards arrived in Pachacamac. 25 men led by Hernando Pizarro, brother of Francisco, and Miguel de Estete who chronicled much of the Spanish conquest, had come to collect part of the ransom of Atahualpa.

The Spaniards spent a night in one of the city’s most impressive buildings, the palace of local Inca ruler Tauri Chumpi. While there, Hernando Pizarro learnt of this feared god that went by the name of Pachacamac and demanded to be taken to the temple in which stood his idol.

He wrote;

“This mosque was so feared by all the Indians. The cave in which the idol was located was so dark that one could not enter without candlelight, and inside it was very dirty. I made all the local rulers enter so that they might loose that fear. In their presence I gave my sermon, explaining the lies with which they were living.”

He then threw the idol to the ground and placed in its place the Christian cross.

A year later Francisco Pizarro himself arrived, fresh from conquering the city of Cusco. Following Inca trails from Cusco to Jauja, then over the mountains and along the Lurín valley he arrived with his men in Pachacamac, looking for a new capital. He sent three emissaries into the valley of Limaq, where he later joined them and founded the city of Los Reyes, later to be known as Lima.

The Spaniard Roridgo Rodoñes was left in charge of the valley and its population. He used the indigenous as slaves, tortured and killed them for entertainment and forced them to raid the tombs of their ancestors and present him with the gold. He forbade their traditional beliefs and religion forcing them to adhere to the rules and customs of Christianity. Amid this horrendous abuse, many people fled, and the ancient city of Pachacamac was abandoned.

Colonial Period

In a pattern repeated across Peru, where the indigenous were forced out of their towns and cities to live in newly constructed Spanish towns, with Spanish architecture, churches and a plaza, so to were the people of Pachacamac who remained. Many were taken to a town called Pachacamilla, located just outside colonial Lima. Here the townspeople secretly continued to practice their religion in secret, continuing to worship Pachacamac. To get away with it, they went to church and prayed to the Christ of Pachacamilla, a figure they had created in the image of Pachacamac. They prayed to this Christ figure to keep them safe from earthquakes, and even referred to him as the Lord of the Earthquakes.

Later, with the arrival of slaves brought from Africa, a number eventually settled in Pachacamilla. Here the Africans took on the traditions of the indigenous who lived there, diluting the secret worship of Pachacamac until it was forgotten and the Christ really did represent Christ. It was here that an unknown Angolan slave in the 1650s painted an image of a black Christ on a wall of Las Nazarenas Church, an image of the Christ of Pachacamilla. The Catholic church considered the painting of a black Christ an act of heresy, erasing the image, an image that unknown to almost everyone really represented Pacha Kamaq.

Shortly afterwards came a terrible earthquake, one of the worst in Peru’s history. Most of Lima was levelled, except for one wall in Pachacamilla… a single wall of Las Nazarenas church, the wall on which was painted the Lord of the Earthquakes.

A story from Inca times;

Pachacamac created the first man and woman, but didn’t give them the food necessary to survive. The man died of hunger. The woman pleaded to Inti, the sun god and father of Pachacamac to help her, who agrees, giving her the food she needs but at the same time impregnating her, giving her a son.

Pachacamac was furious that his father meddled in his affairs, and killed the woman’s son. Parts of the son’s remains are buried across the Andean world, and from these grew the foods of Peru’s now-fertile lands.

The woman complained to the Inti, explaining what had happened, asking for another son and for the Inti’s protection. The son was granted and he was named Vichama, who when grown sets off to explore the Andean world. When he returns he finds that his beloved mother has been killed by Pachacamac. The furious son sets off to find Pachacamac, searching everywhere without rest. Pachacamac was terrified by the ferocity of this man and hid. But Vichama was looking everywhere, the only place left to hid was the sea. He threw himself into the sea and was converted into a series of small rocky islands, today known as the Islas de Pachacamac.


Everything we know about the site of Pachacamac is thanks to Max Uhle who was the first person to begin studies of the immense site in 1896, starting a process of learning that continues today. The beautiful preservation of the Acllawasi, the building in which the Inca’s chosen women lived, is thanks to another great archaeologist by the name of Julio C. Tello.

The site lies just south of Lima, reached from districts like Miraflores in less than 30 minutes. Most of the site is in a terrible state, as are most of Peru’s adobe structures. It can be explored on foot, or on hot days by car. The highest temple, overlooking the ocean, is found furthest away from the site’s entrance – this is the Incas Templo del Sol. Further down back towards the entrance is the Templo Pintado, the temple which retains most of its original decoration – for all these buildings were decorated brightly and beautifully. To it’s left was the Templo Viejo that housed the idol of Pachacamac, one of the oldest structures. Following this road takes you to Tauri Chumpi’s palace, then, turning back towards the entrance, you pass two pyramids. The Acllawasi, just behind the entrance to the site is the first or last construction you will see at this amazing ancient city.


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