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Caral: The Oldest Town in the New World

Caral: The Oldest Town in the New World

The Sacred City of Caral-Supe, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dates back at least 5,000 years, making it the oldest known center of civilization in the New World. Caral sits on a terrace overlooking the Supe River valley in northern Peru. The dry desert landscape has helped preserve the site. The extensive complex includes large, sunken circular courts, stone and earthen platform mounds, pyramids, amphitheaters, temples, plazas and residential areas. The city’s plan and architecture indicate the that this complex was an important spiritual center.

Although the site was known in the early 1900s, it was not investigated until the 1970s. Archeologists discovered that the hills overlooking the river valley were man-made, not natural. Investigation over a period of 20 years exposed the full extent of the city. The complex is one of 18 settlements within the Supe River valley.


Six platform mounds surround a central plaza. The largest mound rises 60 feet and occupies an area equivalent to four football fields. A wide staircase leads to an atrium, a sacred altar and several small rooms. Living quarters for the elite were in the upper areas. Smaller accommodations in lower levels housed craftsmen. Separate living quarters for workers and common people are situated away from the mounds. The city was also a trade center, exchanging crops, textiles, fish and crafts. Knotted string, called quipu, was used to record information such as tax collections, census records and the calendar.

Modern architects are learning important lessons by studying the ancient building techniques. The architecture was earthquake-resistant and compatible with the natural surroundings. The city was built on arid ground instead of fertile areas needed to support Peruvian food crops.

Chef Carlos Altamirano of La Costanera Restaurant near San Francisco uses fresh ingredients similar to those used by the people of ancient Caral. Freshwater fish and seafood are featured in a number of dishes. Pescado a lo Macho presents seasonal fish in a spicy sauce that highlights traditional Peruvian flavors. Guests can dine on the bounty of the Andes while enjoying the view of the Pacific Ocean at this popular Peruvian restaurant.

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