Heritage Heroes – Peru
María Mercedes Mendoza Chavarría
Mendoza in front of the Chan Chan Archaeological Zone.
Photography: Astrid Piethan
Peru, Chan Chan Archaeological Zone
(Cultural World Heritage *1986; World Heritage in Danger: 1986 - Present)
Antes sí ha sido muy duro, porque todo estaba muy destruido, pero ahora queda bonito. Me siento orgullosa, porque es de nuestros antepasados.
"It was very difficult at the beginning because so much was destroyed, but now I am very proud to restore the heritage of my ancestors."
María Mercedes Mendoza Chavarría lives with her family in the vicinity of the archaeological site of Chan Chan. The 61-year-old mother of eight children and multiple grandmother dedicates her time to an unconventional mission. She participates in the preservation of the former capital of the Chimú kingdom.
The site has been on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 1986 because it is especially threatened by the climatic phenomenon of El Niño, which causes heavy rain, flooding and storms.
Since too few professional conservators are available for rescuing the pre-Columbian city with its immense area of 28 square kilometres, the country depends on support by the local community.
Equipped with a trowel, water sprayer and distilled water, Mendoza meticulously works on the conservation of the ruins in the hot sun every day. During many years of practice in working together with archaeologists, she has learned how to reinforce the fragile clay walls and to smoothen the surfaces.
She shares these skills with the women in her neighbourhood, and especially her daughter, for whom the restoration of the ruins has become a part of their everyday life.