Chavín de Huántar
The ancient site of Chavín de Huántar is one of the oldest in the Americas, possibly occupied from 3000 BC. It was used ceremonially from at least 1200 BC until around 400 BC. When the Chavín people occupied it in around 1000 BC, it became their spiritual centre. Impressive monumental architecture can be found at Chavín de Huántar, testifying to the power that was once contained there.
The Chavín people travelled from all over their territory to come and participate in ritual and cult activities at the site which fell into decline in around 500 BC. The ritual activity originally centred around the sunken circular plaza, as it is bound on three sides by the Old Temple. Pilgrims, under the influence of the hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus, were led through the dark labyrinthine passageways of the Old Temple to see the main deity of the Chavín, the Lanzón. The 4.5-metre-high stone sculpture, named after its lance-like shape, is a fanged deity that represents fertility, dualism, and man’s interaction with nature. Also known as the Smiling God, the experience of seeing El Lanzón, an anthropomorphic human-feline, in the narrow tunnels would have been awe-inspiring for the Chavín.
Over time, the site was expanded and a large plaza added along with the New Temple, which was extended from the side of the Old Temple. The New Temple has a relief carving of the Lanzón holding a Strombus and Spondylus shell in each hand, representing the duality of the sexes. Chavín de Huántar does not attract the crowds that other places in Peru do, but it is one of the most spectacular and powerful sites in the country.