Residential Architecture

Chachapoya settlements appear to follow the terrain in a seemingly random pattern, although some sites such as Kuelap have houses grouped along corridors or facing patios, suggesting a pre-conceived plan. A typical site wends its way along a ridge, mountaintop or slope with as few as 30 and as many as 400 structures, most of them circular.

While the location of sites on ridges and summits may be a response to hostilities among the various Chachapoya groups, as suggested by the chroniclers, few sites are fortified. The settings of sites on mountain tops, flanks and ridges may also have been a practical response to a “very rugged and wet land, all year it does nothing but rain, and for this reason the Indians build their houses on the summits and heights,” as a sixteenth-century chronicler observed.

Although circular houses are not unique in the ancient Andes, several features distinguish Chachapoya ones. The houses sit on solid platform bases topped by the upper walls of the structures themselves. Decorative, masonry friezes (zigzags, rhomboids, step-frets or figurative, mosaic-like friezes such as those at Gran Pajatén) embellish the foundations or the structure’s upper walls. Cornices, surrounding or set in a half-moon around the houses, served as decorative features or walkways, protecting the platforms from rainfall. Tenoned human and feline heads fashioned in stone decorated exteriors and, at times, the interiors of houses, and deer antlers have also been observed embedded in interior walls.
The Chachapoya topped their residences with conical, thatched roofs.

From left to right: Structure with step-fret frieze at La Congona; Structure with double zigzag frieze at San Antonio (Adriana von Hagen)

More Information:
The Chachapoya Religion Language
Economy Residential Architecture Funerary Architecture
Art Style Kuelap