This stunningly modern museum certainly stands out in northern Peru, land of dusty archaeological pyramids and colonial towns. Its daring architecture of bold angles, glass, and orange concrete makes a statement by echoing the ancient Moche pyramids of the region, but the principal attraction is within. It holds one of Peru's most spectacular exhibits, the tomb of the Lord of Sipán, discovered in 1987, which ranks as one of the most important archaeological discoveries in Peru of the past 50 years. Unearthed at the Huaca Rajada at Sipán, the multilevel royal funeral tomb of El Señor de Sipán, a Moche royal figure buried more than 1,700 years ago, was remarkable for its undisturbed, methodical layers and wealth of ceremonial ornaments and treasures that provided key clues to Moche culture. Buried along with the king, who was presumed to be a sort of living deity, were companions joining him on his journey to the afterlife: a Moche warrior, a priest, three female concubines, a dog, two llamas, a child, 212 food and beverage vessels, and a guard with a copper shield, gold helmet, and amputated feet -- symbolic of his everlasting protection over the king's tomb.
The space dedicated to the Lord of Sipán is one of the most impressive and unforgettable sights under a roof in Peru -- a revelation for visitors who've visited several of the archaeological sites in northern Peru and been disappointed to find little more than difficult-to-decipher colossal piles of clay. In this marvelously designed three-level museum, the spectacular Sipán finds articulate the grandeur and achievements of pre-Inca cultures and help us comprehend their religious beliefs, social structure, and sophistication. On display from the main funerary chamber -- amazingly, never looted -- are headdresses, garments, and breastplates of gold, silver, and precious stones that tell an intricate story of power and rank. Several pieces, such as the royal necklace of 20 peanuts, half gold and half silver, are stunning. Other tombs uncovered and re-created here are those of the priest, the mythical "Bird-Man" and top-ranking religious official, and the Viejo Señor de Sipán (or Old Lord of Sipán), a Moche spiritual dignitary whose death preceded that of the newer lord's and whose remains were found buried farther below.
The Tumbas Reales Museum is one of the best organized and best designed in Peru, an eminently worthy resting place for this monumental discovery. You'll need at least a couple of hours to explore it fully.
- © Frommer's 2013
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- Very Highly Recommended 2010