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  Peru : Articles: Kuelap

The Other Machu Picchu:
Kuelap

Kuelap

According to the native language, it means "cold place", because in spite of being in the entrance of the Amazonas, it is the only place where you cant support the low temperature.  According to archaeologist it is one of the South American pre-Hispanic monumental cities. In the XVI century the priest Blas Valera said that the region bares the name of Chachapoyas because of its location. "Sacha" which means forest or woods and "phuyu", means cloud.

To discover Kuelap, the departure point is Chachapoyas, capital of the district of Amazonas.  This place possesses and historical attraction because it was the last bastion of a supposed lost white race, called the Chachapuyanos, that backed down before the Incan invasion.  Remains of high constructions of stone, landscape, massive walls and high towers impress the traveler, with and attraction that puts this enormous construction between thick fog at the time of ascending it. 

It has a population of approximately 16 thousand inhabitants, it is characterized by a climate that is warm during the day and cold at night, with rainy periods between the months of December through April.  The average temperatures fluctuate between 35 and 26 degrees Celsius. 
In the surroundings it is possible to visit numerous typical towns. It inhabitants, most of them agriculturists, live happily with out the problems that attaint the residents of a city like stress and unconcerned by terms like globalization. 

This majestic fortress (that is also named the "Babel Tower" of Peru)  it rises over the wooded valley of Utcubamba, it is one of the most important archaeological monuments in the continent.  Its mystery has always attracted explorers and scientist.

It is an archaeological assemblage with very important characteristics of the Peruvian North East.  Discovered in 1843 by Don Juan Crisostomo Nieto, that was a Chachapoyas judge. From then on until now it has been constantly visited by numerous investigators and travelers, attracted by the complexity and monumental character of its constructions, which have been the object of various reports among them are: the intellectual Antonio Raimondi, the Swiss geologist Arturo Werthemann, the French traveler Charles Wiener, the Swiss anthropologist Adolph Bandelier, as well as other renown people that arrived through these homesteads.

A Strategic Labyrinth 

Popularly known as the "Lost fortress of Kuelap", it integrates all of an archaeological deposit site that includes an extension of 450 hectares. Within this assemblage you can see that it is comprised of cultivation terraces, settlements, entrance controls, storehouses and public plazas.  Located in the small village with the same name, with in the land of the Tingo district, Luya Province, Amazonas Department, at the moment it belongs to the northeastern region of Marañon.  Its location is approximately 35 kilometers in the direction south of Chachapoyas.

You can access the site after a journey walking some 8 kilometers, a brief stretch, in which the traveler him or herself is forced to ascend in only 3 hours, some 1000 meters.

It is also possible to access by a coach or carriage path that winds on the left bank of the Tingo river, that after the crossing, allows 4 hours of journey to reach Marca-pampa, a small plain in the proximities of the monument, although everything depends on the conditions of the chosen tours. 

Its principal attraction is not only archaeology, but also geography, because it is located at 3 thousand meters above sea level in a zone with beautiful landscapes that contrast the high Cordillera of the Andes and the drawn back amazon jungle, a spectacle is created to recreate the sight.

The archaeological place was constructed on the top of a rocky abutment of calcareous lime origin establishing a hegemonic and strategic position, with an ample and magnificent archeological criterion that reveals knowledge and topographic dominion with respect to the rest of the area.

The monumental character and complexity of these constructions are found distributed in an area that forms an outstretched wing, with a north south orientation of approximately some 584 meters long and an average of 120 meters in width, in which is limited by a grand wall that is enclosed within the perimeter.  The assemblage can be measured at some parts at more than 20 meters in height and in its structural conformation there has been a large quantity of multiple burials have been registered according to the archaeologist Orlando Angulo, resident of the place.

Furthermore preventing the access, the retaining wall helps the filling that was place to obtain plain surfaces in the slopes of the hill with the purpose of obtaining security and protection in case of attacks from other tribes.

The material used in the buildings were sedimentary rock or limestone upright blocks without polish.  It has 3 entrances to the city through the wall, giving an impression of conical tunnels, criterion in which it was constructed, wide at the entrance and narrow in the exits, permitting access to only one person.

The fortress is conformed by more than 450 distributed structures in diverse levels, of which 4 are rectangular floors, 1 quadrangular floor and the rest circular floors.  

Thus, the traveler can take into account that the integration of the ancient Peruvian with nature is an astonishing lesson. The Chachapoyas, whose secrets are safely kept in the density of the foliage.  They created harmony in a privileged place, a site with out time where the mountain tops are kissed by the clouds. The housing that was more common were circular bases, some had been reconstructed so that the visitors, which are few, given that Kuelap is difficult to access, they can get to know intuitively the life of the place, surrounded by orchids and bromeliads.

Zones with their own meaning

All of these associated structures had determined functions for each other among them being ceremonial, administrative, living and defense control. Stones worked in high relief that are similar to human faces exist.

They are of singular meaning and great attractions "El Tintero" (ceremonial building), "El Castillo" (place where the mausoleum exists), the fortified towers, the constructions decorated with borders, among them the engravings of geometric, anthropomorphous, zoomorphic and other forms highlight the place.

The structures with circular floors (that average 7 meters in diameter), generally housing, that present architectural characteristics in the older construction that inhabit this part of Peru. 
They are distributed in agglutinative form or surrounding open patios.  They present decorated autochthons that indicate the lower level of the baths those that lead to its interior by direct access that add other elements like ventilation ducts, drainage systems and small internal chambers under the floor.

Some of the walls that reach heights of  4 meters present vaulted niches and windows, there is evidence that they were plastered and possibly decorated with paint in the interior. By the form of the buildings it understood that they had straw covered ceilings in conical form.  

In front of its walls that are 30 meters high and some 1200 meters in contour, including an impenetrable abyss.  You think of thousands of men working the hill in semicircular form, cutting the stone blocks, inserting them and joining them with a mixture that when it dries it is harder than cement. Its people thought of its defense and made its three entrances in an funnel form so that only one person could pass through the entrance at a time.

The visit lasts 3 to 4 hours walking with amazement and astonishment.  The extraordinary architects constructed two buildings with rectangular floors and 335 in circular form in the "lower town".  Six buildings adorned with decorative borders reveal there religious character.  The majority of the guides that cover the zone make travelers notice the zigzag decoration in the form of a serpent and the diamonds that make the eye look catlike.

According to historical chronicles, the place was occupied until 1532, when Diego Alvarado reduced the population to the lower parts.
The chronicles of  Pedro Cieza de Leon manifest that: " The Chachapoyas (that occupied these lands) were white Indians whose handsomeness was sovereign worthy and whose eyes were blue, which were as white as the Spanish".

One of the most recurrent anecdotes, is listening to the denominated legend of the adjacent hill, "La Barreta" (The small bar) in which narrated that the young man of Kuelap loved the daughter of kuraka in the neighboring town.  She accepted to marry him if he fulfilled two conditions. Transport water to them and cast a bar that would unite the two towns. Her suitor accomplished transporting water from a lagoon close by, but upon casting the bar it fell in the hill that took its name. 

From 1998, the year that the archeological complex "Kuelap Fortress" was declared an Intangible Archeological Zone and a cultural patrimony of Peru, the tourism in the zone increased considerably, whereas Government and cultural organization have tried to prevent the entrance of international mining interested in exploiting there lands.  The next step is to obtain the nomination of Kuelap as a Cultural Patrimony of Humanity on behalf of Unesco for the year 2004, in order to upgrade or maximize the zone as a touristic element, at a level even greater than Macchu Picchu.

Annexed wealth

The majority of the tourist agencies also offer tours to Lamud in conjunction with visits to Kuelap.  In this zone you can observe erect mud coffins which are decorated with anthropomorphic embossment, that represent catlike claws and human heads. The Chachapuyanos, after placing the coffins in strategic places of the cliffs, destroyed the paths that lead to them to avoid disturbing their dead.  Also you can visit the funeral buildings of Revash, the sarcophagus of Karajia and the towns of Luya, Trita, Tingo, Talape, Levanto, La Jalca, among others; that show the wonderful landscapes and the kindness of there inhabitants.

In the Province of Chachapoyas in addition it is worth the trouble to visit the tunnels of San Antonio ( rock formations in the form of natural bridges located over the river that bares the same name), Palmeras de Ocol Forest (district of Molinopampa); in the town of Huancas you will find the cave paintings of Pitaya; the archaeological zone of Yalape (with four hectares, it is an archaeological complex of joined stones with mud mortar, which pertained to the Chachapoyas and dates back to the years 1100 to 1300 a.C.); the natural bridge of Ashpachaca and the Coltin caves.

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