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World Heritage Sites of Peru

David Pettitt

Peru is home to some of the finest UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. Arguably the most famous of these is Machu Picchu – the staggeringly beautiful mountain citadel of the Inca’s which is close to 600 years old and sits at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. But Peru has a wealth of cultural history to rival the ‘lost city of the Inca’s’ and here are the best of the rest.

Nazca Lines in the Peruvian desert

Historical Centre of Arequipa

The southern city of Arequipa is home to the finest collection of colonial architecture anywhere in Peru. Sited in the heart of some of Peru’s wildest country – where deep canyons and high desert are framed by towering active volcanoes including snow-capped El Misti – the centre of this beautiful city is crammed with fabulous museums, wonderful buildings and atmospheric lanes. Largely constructed of white volcanic sillar rock, the jewel in the city’s crown is the Monasterio Santa Catalina.

City of Cuzco

For many Cuzco is associated the start of the famed Inca Trail that leads to nearby Machu Picchu, however, this does the city a great disservice. Originally founded by the Inca ruler Pachacutec during the 1400s, Cuzco quickly became the centre of the Inca Empire flourishing until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. The Europeans soon left their mark on the city and today Cuzco is a heady mix of Inca and colonial architecture with pre-Columbian remains standing alongside churches, monasteries and convents.

Lines and Geoglyphs of Nazca

The enigmatic Nazca lines have long fascinated travellers to Peru. Located to the south of capital Lima, the lines were re-discovered in 1939 by Paul Kosok when flying over the desolate stony desert that characterises much of this region. Encompassing an area of 450 km², there are a large number of parallel and geometric lines and representations of all manner of objects from trees and birds to a monkey and killer whale. Their meaning remains shrouded in mystery and theories range from the astronomical or religious to a rather far-fetched extraterrestrial airstrip!

Chavin de Huantar

The best preserved site and only large structure attributed to the Chavin culture, it is estimated that the fortress temple of Chavin de Huantar is over 2,500 years old. Although archaeologists believe the Chavin controlled the Andean highlands between 1,500 and 300 BC, little else about them is known which is why the site at Chavin de Huantar holds such importance. Still remarkably preserved, Chavin de Huantar is famed for its marvellous carvings and relief designs that are some of the finest ancient artistic works founds in Peru.

Chan Chan

Located close to the northern city of Trujillo, the remarkable ruins at Chan Chan once formed part of the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas. Chan Chan was the imperial capital of the Chimú who dominated the region in the years before Inca supremacy. Plundered by the Incas and Spanish and ravaged by the weather, this adobe city covers a vast site and its scale is impressive. Remains of the palaces, temples, streets and homes that supported an estimated population of 60,000 can still be seen as can pretty moulded decorations and painted pottery.

Sacred City of Caral-Supe

Located little more than 200 km north of Lima, the remains at Caral-Supe may be one of Peru’s least visited UNESCO World Heritage Sites but they must be considered one of the country’s most important. Archaeologists believe Caral-Supe belonged to the Norte Chico civilisation and that the complex was founded around 2,600 BC. Exceptionally well preserved, the site is hugely impressive with monumental stone edifices and a complex design which includes a series of striking pyramid-like structures.

 

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