Kuelap, one of the largest ancient monuments of the Americas, was a fortified citadel in northern Peru on the slopes of the Andes. The remains of the settlement sit 3,000 meters above sea level and the original fortress covered 15 hectares. It consisted of buildings of civil, religious, and military purposes as well as 420 circular stone dwellings, which contained geometric friezes, mural iconography, and high relief carvings. The citadel was surrounded by walls reaching 60 feet tall in some places and constructed out of large limestone blocks. Kuelap was the political center of the Chachapoya civilization, a pre-Columbian culture that flourished from about 900 to 1400 AD. At its height, the city may have had up to 300,000 inhabitants, mostly warriors, merchants, shamans, and farmers. The Chachapoya civilization collapsed in the mid-16th century due to the Spanish conquest, and Kuelap was abandoned. Kuelap’s condition deteriorated over time due to fires, rain, wind erosion, and lack of an effective drainage system, as well as growth of tree roots.
2004 World Monuments Watch
Kuelap was placed on the 2004 World Monuments Watch to call attention to its continuing deterioration and need for improved tourism planning. World Monuments Fund and other organizations have supported the conservation of Kuelap, with particular attention to El Tintero, a structure known as the Inkwell in English. The project also includes the conservation of the upper level of the Templo Mayor, conservation of the Pueblo Alto Wall, installation of a weather station, and monitoring and evaluation of other significant structures at the site. Stabilization of the fortress will allow public access to this historic access, but the highest priority is being given to developing tourist itineraries at that site that do not contribute to the further deterioration of the fragile remains of the structures.
Kuelap provides an opportunity to understand the legacy left behind by an extinct civilization that contributed much to the region before its disappearance. The preservation of the fortress complex will allow for greater understanding of the rituals and practices of a people inhabiting hillside dwellings at high altitudes. The structures are examples of the artistic and engineering sophistication of early cultures in the Americas.