The pit reveals several layers of bricks, placed at different levels and different angles. The bricks are of varying thickness and shape, and obviously worked by hand. Beneath the bricks: whitish-grey sand, almost identical in colour to the bricks themselves. Outside of the pit: more whitish-grey bricks, more whitish-grey sand. Low walls, comprised of whitish-grey bricks; low embankments, comprised of whitish-grey sand. Beyond that: the vast, multi-layered pyramid of Huaca Pucllana.
There is little else in sight, just bricks and sand. Everything an identical colour. All baking in the merciless, late-summer sun. Everything here is white, dry, desiccated. A harsh, trying environment.
Or so it would have been to the Lima people, those who lived here close to two thousand years ago. The city that currently surrounds the Huaca Pucllana archaeological complex bears little resemblance, if any, to the hard, arid environment just described. Beyond the outer fence of Huaca Pucllana lie palm-tree-lined boulevards, lushly-grassed parks, magenta-flowered bougainvillea vines crawling over crumbling colonial mansions, bonsai trees and vertical gardens hanging from the balconies of luxury high-rise condos. All is imported, of course, and survives on water brought forth from distant rivers.
Miraflores, the suburb of Lima that has grown around this archaeological site, is soft, comfy, full of luxury. The grounds of Huaca Pucllana seem alien in comparison. But this is the real deal, this is the natural environment of Lima; this sand pit, where there is no shade, where there is no water, where there is no vegetation, where every surface is white and the sun is reflected umpteen million times. Out here, you get a feel for what this place was like two thousand years ago, what the natural landscape continues to be like just a few steps outside of Lima. This part of Peru, the desert-like coastal plain, receives just a centimetre of rain a year on average.
The Lima People
The Lima people, those who built the pyramid Huaca Pucllana in 500CE, and who lived here between 200CE and 700CE, were worshippers of the sea. They raised crops of corn, pumpkin and beans, and thrived here for centuries, before falling victim to changing climatic conditions, and being outcompeted by the more successful Wari culture, who slowly took control of the region.
The Wari People
The Wari, once they had the great pyramid in their grips, had little use for it, except to bury their nobility in its uppermost levels. Perhaps they would have done more with it if they had stuck around a bit longer, but they too fell victim to the harsh environment. The Wari culture collapsed within a hundred years of their arrival, prolonged drought to blame.
The Yschma People
It took several centuries for another recognisable culture to form in the region. These people, the Yschma, descendants of the Wari, began making their presence known from around 1100CE. The Yschma conducted ritual sacrifices on top of the pyramid of Huaca Pucllana, and they deliberately destroyed the graves of the Wari nobility.
The Yschma were eventually absorbed by the Incans, when they pulled into town in 1440CE. But the Incans only had the place to themselves for a hundred years or so before the Spanish conquistadors arrived, in 1532, led by Francisco Pizarro, the man who, after executing the Incan leader Atahualpa – an act which effectively brought about the demise of the Incan culture – went on to found Lima, the city that currently surrounds Huaca Pucclana.
The Lima people, 1500 odd years ago, used to be able to gaze upon the sea from the top of this great pyramid. Now a line of skyscrapers lies in between. These days, the top of the pyramid reveals views of parasailers, launching from nearby Parque del Amor, and of small, single propeller planes towing political slogans through the air, in the lead up to the May 2016 Peruvian national election.
Layer upon layer upon layer of history.
First Lima, then Wari, then Yschma, then Inca, then Spanish, now Peruvian. Each culture has left their mark here. And each, apart from the Lima, has attacked the site; all have sought to disempower Huaca Pucclana, to weaken its status, to strip away its spiritual power. Huaca Pucclana has been desecrated; it’s been ripped apart, it’s been buried beneath fill.
In modern times Huaca Pucclana is once again viewed in the highest regard. But its final plight, to be reduced to a benign curiosity lying within a pleasantly manicured suburban park, is perhaps the most humbling blow of all.