Chankillo, Peru’s ancient calendar

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We left at dawn for Chankillo and it was worth it. I would say that it would have been an almost perfect morning, had we gotten any sleep. The afternoon before we left, we had pulled into Playa La Gramita, with its little boats dancing to the rhythm of the waves. We were admiring the blood-red sunset when Sante Scarpati, owner of the Las Aldas tourist complex, appeared. “You can’t leave without seeing Chankillo,” he told us.

A cloud of dust kicked up from the arid skin of the desert preceded our arrival at Chankillo. Dante, under a hat, and us, under sunblock in this time of ultraviolet radiation, started our tour of this peculiar fort, forgotten by the conquistadors, who were blinded by gold. Its solid, concentric walls, passageways, doors and labyrinths, erected atop a hill so that it looks like an immense crown, by renowned experts like Julio C. Tello, Rosa Fung and John and Theresa Topic.

Nevertheless, it was only in 2007, with the work of Peruvian archaeologist Inva Ghezzi, that we found out that the Temple of the Thirteen Towers, in the lower part of Chankillo, is a living calendar, still working after 2,300 years. The position of the sun relative to the towers precisely indicates the solstices and equinoxes, a technique the Inca used a thousand years later.

It’s not known what culture built Chankillo, just that they were children of the sun. Looking at those thirteen towers, like spines on the back of a dragon, like wind in the face, for a second we too were children of the sun, radiant, exultant, golden. We returned to the Panamericana.

In the deserts of Peru, the ruins of Chankillo offer a glimpse into ancient astrology.

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