The town of CASMA, 170km north of Barranca, marks the mouth of the well-irrigated Sechin River Valley. Surrounded by corn and cotton fields, this small settlement is peculiar in that most of its buildings are just one storey high and all are modern. Formerly the port for the Callejón de Huaylas, the town was razed by the 1970 earthquake, whose epicentre was just offshore. There’s not a lot of interest here and little reason to break your journey, other than to try the local speciality of duck ceviche (flakes of duck meat soaked deliciously in lime and orange juice) or to explore the nearby ruins, such as the temple complex of Sechin, the ancient fort of Chanquillo and the Pañamarca pyramid, 20km north.
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The Sechin ruins
The Sechin ruins
A partially reconstructed temple complex, the main section of the Sechin ruins is unusually stuck at the bottom of a hill, and consists of an outer wall clad with around ninety monolithic slabs engraved with sometimes monstrous representations of particularly nasty and bellicose warriors, along with their mutilated sacrificial victims or prisoners of war. Some of these stones, dating from between 1800 and 800 BC, stand 4m high. Hidden behind the standing stones is an interesting inner sanctuary – a rectangular building consisting of a series of superimposed platforms with a central stairway on either side. The site also contains the small Museo de Sitio Max Uhle, which displays photographs of the complex plus some of the artefacts uncovered here, as well as information and exhibits on Moche, Huari, Chimu, Casma and Inca cultures.
Some of the ceremonial centres at Sechin were built before 1400 BC, including the massive, U-shaped Sechin Alto complex (21km away near Buena Vista Alta; not accessible via public transport), at the time the largest construction in the entire Americas. Ancient coastal constructions usually favoured adobe as a building material, making this site rare in its extensive use of granite stone. Around 300m long by 250m wide, the massive stone-faced platform predates the similar ceremonial centre at Chavín de Huantar, possibly by as much as four hundred years. This means that Chavín could not have been the original source of the temple architectural style, and that much of the iconography and legends associated with what is known as the Chavín cultural phase of Peruvian prehistory actually began 3500 years ago down here on the desert coast.