Tucume, the Largest Pyramid Complex in the World
Lambayeque Archaeological Site
There are at least 26 important pyramids, along with enclosures and mounds, in the 540 acres of Tucume in Peru. Constructed of mud brick, they are located on the plain surrounding the La Raya Mountain, south of the La Leche River. Constructed by the Lambayeque in 1000 AD, they were conquered by the Chimu in 1375 and incorporated into the Incan Empire in 1470.
Local shaman healers called upon the powers of the Tucume and La Raya Mountain during their rituals. Thus Tucume is feared by the local people who know it as Purgatorio. They will not enter the site at night. Part of the Lambayeque Valley, which is the largest valley on the North Coast of Peru, the Tucume plains are located on the valley’s southern edge. It is now surrounded by fertile land, due to a forty-three mile irrigation canal.
In Tucume’s north and northeast sector are found the largest and most imposing pyramids, especially Huaca Larga or Long Pyramid, Huaca 1, the Temple of the Sacred Stone and Huaca Balsas.
The sumptuous burial-place of an important Inca general, perhaps Tucume’s Inca governor, was discovered by archaeologists in Huaca Larga. This pyramid is 2300 feet long, the longest known adobe structure. The Chimu dominated the area of Huaca Larga, which is marked by their red, white and black paintings, some of which depict flying birds. The site is thought to have been abandoned due to a destructive fire set by the Spaniards in Huaca Larga’s center at the start of the colonial period.
Huaca 1 is a stepped pyramid 98 feet high with its narrow access ramp making some right-angle turns up its façade. There are two plazas connected to it that are surrounded by high walls, along with several annexes. One of these is known as “The Bell Shaped Building” and is an outstanding sample of Andean design with overhanging walls. At its top the Huaca 1 has rooms that may have been the living quarters of the Lambayeque leaders. The Chimu used Huaca 1 during their occupation and again they decorated it with flying bird paintings.
The Temple of the Sacred Stone is a U-shaped pyramid. Although small and plain, it was a major stop for travelers passing by as they entered the site. The road through the Lambayeque Valley leads first to this temple and then to Huaca Larga. What seems to make this temple special is a large boulder set in the middle of a building. Archaeologists do not know what it represents but found a huge amount of offerings around it that included shells, slaughtered llamas and numerous other items and figurines. Huaca Balsas has lovely mythical friezes, although the pyramid was damaged by looters. “The Mound of the Rafts” frieze portrays a scene in which a bird man and bird lead a raft that follows another raft. “The Frieze of the Rite” portrays a priestly figure under a roofed structure who is holding a llama in one hand and a staff in the other. It is thought by archaeologists that these scenes depict myths of the Lambayeque culture. Although just a shadow of the creators’ original design, the remains of Tucume are one of Peru’s most important archaeological sites.