Trujillo: Its Past Awaits You
Huaca de la Luna
|If the easy-going
inhabitants of Trujillo had been able to go back in time and witness the savagery of the
people who used to live in these valleys, they would have advised the anonymous marinera
songwriter who immortalized the region with the words "In Trujillo, God was born,
sir", to go easy on the pisco.
Extremely colourful relieves discovered in the Huaca de la Luna show frenzied warriors beheading their enemies or having them taken off to be slaughtered like cattle. Even young virgins were considered fair game for many unspeakable cruel forms of sacrifice, meant to assuage the anger of the Gods. Perhaps that is why, even today, the huacas are favoured by shamans as settings for their strange ceremonies, begrudging all the ground to archaeologists, who are working hard to help preserve the ancestral art of northern Peru's ancient inhabitants.
However, nowadays violence is no longer the unifying force among the residents of this eternally sunny northern city. On the contrary, you will now be overwhelmed by their cordiality and serene nature. "It's the weather," their ancestors would probably say.
Trujillo has a dance step for everything, even for making love. It is the capital of the marinera. Every summer, thousands of couples flock here to show off costumes and try out new rhythms. Evoking sensual images with their bodies, they imitate the grace of the caballo de paso, an animal also native to the region.
The women of Trujillo are said to be more reserved than those of other northern cities. The local men say the reason for the aloofness of the trujillanas, is that they have always lived within the confines of the immense city walls - since been converted into avenues - that shielding them from attacks. In those days, the main concern was pirates; today, though, no-one is too sure who they are trying to fend off! This aloofness soon fades though, and once the ice is broken, they invite you to experience the immeasurable delights of this sun-drenched city. Chroniclers have written much about the incredible beauty of a princess called Ceterni, the wife of one of this northern region's early rulers. However, Ceterni's beauty is insignificant in comparison to the graceful beauty of the women who, each spring, turn Trujillo into Peru's capital of grace. Every year, all Trujillo dresses up in its finery for the Festival de la Primavera and throws a party filled with dancing, colour and sensuality: a bewildering blend of beauty and harmony.
A similar image is evoked by the sky and the endless greenery of these history-rich valleys of Peru's northern coast. Here visitors can look down on vast sugar estates that were once the property of a handful of landowners, known as the "sugar barons", whose families, not so long ago, effectively owned most of Peru. Today, they no longer exist, having fallen victims of time and events.
The Cooperatives-turned-private-corporations stand in their place, trying to compete with the price and quality of imported sugar from Asia. The sun, meanwhile, continues to sear the skin of the weather-worn men in the fields with their machete in hand who, like swarms of bees, harvest the sweet stalks. Casa Grande, Loreto, Cartavio, Chiclin are considered sacred ground by the northerner.
History exudes from the mansions and colonial churches, their presence rivaling the beauty and esoteric attraction of the age-old huacas. In every corner an anecdote, a coat of arms or some such token of ancestry. Trujillanos always address you with a polite "Look, friend..." and so set at ease, you can start your tour of the city at the Plaza de Armas (Plaza Mayor to some), and admire the La Libertad Monument. Even from here, you can feel the ocean breeze. On Calle Pizarro on one side of the Plaza stands la Casa Urquiaga Calogne . A block further up, you come to one of the city's most striking colonial homes, la Casa de Mayorazgo. If you venture inside, you can almost taste the history of the place. The city's marvelous colonial churches are also an absolute must, blending Hispanic architecture with touches of native influence. The finest examples are the Cathedral, Santo Domingo, San Agustin and San Francisco. What is more, wherever you turn, you will see the magnificent balconies, huge bay-windows and massive front doors. Your eye is drawn by the evocative colonial colours conserved to this day. If you poke your head in doorways, you will marvel at the spacious inner courtyards with wood-paneled adobe stairways winding upwards. Few cities in the region have so conserved their Colonial and Republican past.
Trujillo has the cleanest streets in Peru. Indeed it looks as if some poor soul has to polish them daily. Some still retain their original cobbles. The squares have a kind of magical air about them. However, you must hurry if you want to see them all. Arriving at El Recreo square you will be immediately captivated by the romance of the place. Here under the fichus trees you catch yourself wondering how many love affairs were born - and died - here under the rustling leaves.
You don't need a guide in order to feel the magic of Trujillo, to sense the poetry behind atmosphere, the melodies it inspires from the very depths of the soul. At the corner of Orbegoso and San Martín, there is an old mansion of adobe and wood. One of the upstairs rooms was once the home to Cesar Vallejo, perhaps Peru's most acclaimed writer. Originally from the highlands of La Libertad, Vallejo went to university as well as taught in Trujillo. He was also unjustly imprisoned for a time. He was a perfectly ordinary-looking man, the only thing that set him apart, was his hair, which he wore longer than was the fashion those days. Some even call Trujillo "The City of Vallejo" in his honour. At night, the young often gather by the La Libertad Monument to sing Vallejo's lyrics to rock music. Besides its fame as a cultural centre, there is also a touch of the irreverent here. Trujillo's four universities, centres of art education, and a long-standing affinity for politics, make it the obvious choice as the regional capital. The nightlife in this "City of Spring" rivals Lima at its best. Revellers can dance the night away in discotheques set in colonial mansions, experience the excitement of a bullfight, or help themselves to a variety of local delicacies from the grill. To top it off, they can go to Huanchaco to watch the sun rise while breakfasting on delicious freshly-caught fish.
Art, culture, politics and beauty merge from every corner of Trujillo. The sun illuminates this annual Fiesta de Primavera, when God seems to be reborn here with each new day.
On the night these northerners of Peru organised a banquet, in honour and gratitude to the liberator Simon Bolivar, was sadly marred by an event that goes down in the history books as a constant reminder of shame to this multiracial country. When one of Bolivar's generals approached the wife of the party's host, Luis Jose de Orbegoso y Moncada, and asked her to dance, he received such a resounding rebuttal that it sounded as if the cannons had started firing again. The general was handsome and victorious; he was also black. Obliged by her husband to dance with the general, no sooner had the last chord faded when, Orbegoso's wife ordered that her dress, brought all the way from Paris, be burned on the spot. Such was the fury of the Peruvian marshall and patriot, Luis Jose de Orbegoso y Moncada that, to this day, you can almost hear the walls of his elegant home ringing with the strength of his wrath. The mansion is perhaps the best-known of all the colonial stately homes in Trujillo. It stands as an enduring monument to a nation shaped from many influences, a synthesis of 19th century American and European art.
The two-story house is modeled on the old mansions of the city: high-ceilinged, cool terrepleins, stairways and halls. The layout is in the form of an L, built around the main patio. The decoration is of the finest quality: elegant period furniture, crystal and silver dining ware and murals painted by Manuel Marquez, the famous artist from the Moche valley. The cornered balcony is unique in Peru and looks out over one of the most attractive parts of Trujillo. The balcony also has two small cannons pointing south, as if to re-evoke the days of the war of independence.
Today, Casa Orbegoso is often used to house cultural activities. Interbank is funding its restoration and maintenance, so that tourists with a weakness for colonial art can come and appreciate its splendour. Earlier this year, the remains of José Luis Orbegoso y Moncada, the only Trujillano ever to be elected President of Peru, were brought back to rest here. The occasion coincided with the bicentennial of his birth and was cause for a huge celebration. Casa Orbegoso has an atmosphere charged with history, where visitors can feel the souls of many of the idealists and nationalists from Peru's past.
City of Clay
According to local legend, about 1,000 years ago, a figure named Taykanamo, accompanied by a large entourage, emerged from the ocean to settle these fertile valleys. Over the centuries, his successors added to the construction of what soon became Peru's largest city at that time. Chan Chan, as it was called, was the capital of the Chimu civilization. There was room for 100,000 people, virtually a city-state. It was so well laid out, that when the all-powerful Incas laid siege to it, it took them several years to capture it. The city covers an area of more than 20 kilometers in diameter, its inhabitants lived an integrated existence: the city had a religious-ceremonial centre, an enormous warehouse, administrative unit as well as a military bunker. The city also had its own reservoirs, which are still intact, as well as a beach from where intrepid fishermen would put out to sea on the traditional reed boats.
Experts say the Chimu were apparently five or six centuries ahead of the western, at least as far as hydraulic engineering was concerned. Testimony to this are the irrigation channels winding their way through the sand, like immense serpents on the outskirts of Chan Chan. A typical citadel belonging to this civilisation, which lasted from 900 to 1,400 A.D., was divided into four separate segments: a great square for ceremonies; the ruler's residence; a huge warehouse for food supplies and a reservoir; finally, there was a burial site, which was reserved exclusively for the Chimu rulers. On the outskirts of each citadel, there was an area where the people were mainly engaged in farming, craftsmanship and fishing, the main activities which sustained the civilization that occupied northern Peru in this pre-Incan era. Visitors can marvel at the architecture of the palaces: huge constructions of clay and sand measuring up to 15 meters high. The trapezoid walls of huge stones and clay, measured five meters wide at their base and could withstand earthquakes. The high walls are decorated with beautiful haut-relieves, depicting customs, religious mythology, constellations as well as the farming and fishing seasons. The motifs are arranged in combinations of small figures in horizontal and vertical patterns: fishes, birds and reptiles arranged in marvelous symmetry, just like an endless embroidered hanging mural.
The city, once besieged the Incas, is today under assault by local pig farmers. A rather depressing turn of events for an archaeological complex that has been declared part of the Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Volume I/Issue 4, Page 08
Updated, Lola Salas
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