The Chimu Kingdom, with Chan Chan as its capital, reached its apogee in the 15th century, not long before falling to the Incas. The planning of this huge city, the largest in pre-Columbian America, reflects a strict political and social strategy, marked by the city's division into nine 'citadels' or 'palaces' forming autonomous units.
The monumental zone of around six square kilometers in the centre of the once twenty square kilometer city, comprises nine large rectangular complexes (‘citadels’ or ‘palaces’) delineated by high thick earthen walls. Within these units, buildings including temples, dwellings, storehouses are arranged around open spaces, together with reservoirs, and funeral platforms.
The earthen walls of the buildings were often decorated with friezes representing abstract motifs, and anthropomorphical and zoomorphical subjects. Around these nine complexes were thirty two semi monumental compounds and four production sectors for activities such as weaving wood and metal working. Extensive agricultural areas and a remnant irrigation system have been found further to the north, east and west of the city.
The Chimu kingdom reached its zenith in the 15th century, not long before falling under the sway of the Incas. In about 1470, after a long war, the Inca Tupac Yupanqui took King Minchancaman in captivity to Cuzco. The king's son, Chumun Caur, governed the kingdom of the north, thereafter weakened and divided, on behalf of the Inca.
Some 60 years later, the Spanish conquistadores, favourably welcomed by the Chimus out of hate for the Incas, founded a new capital 5 km from Chan Chan which in 1535 was given the name of Pizarro's home town, Trujillo, when the site of Chan Chan was quickly abandoned. Archaeology which has provided us with data on the Chimu civilization which, around 1200, replaced the Mochica culture on the very location where the latter began developing in the 4th century. It was the Moche valley which was the vital centre of a vast empire stretching from the Gulf of Guayaquíl in the north to the region of Paramonga in the south. In this dry zone the river, which flowed into a canal 80 km long, was used, via an intricate system of irrigation, to supply the entire region that lay close to Chan Chan. It is now difficult to imagine the fertility of this region during the height of the Chimu civilization.