At the height of the Chimú empire, Chan Chan spread over 20 square km with a monumental zone of around 6 square km in the center, and housed an estimated 60,000 inhabitants. The city had nine large rectangular citadels surrounded by thick earthen walls 30 to 60 feet high. Within these units, were thousands of buildings including temples, residences, storehouses are arranged around open spaces, together with reservoirs, and funeral platforms. The walls of the buildings were often decorated with raised carvings representing abstract motifs and animals.
Outside these nine rectangular units were four industrial sectors dedicated to woodwork, weaving, and the work of gold and silver. The city was deprived of these precious metals by Spanish treasure hunters who plundered the city during the 16th century. An area further to the south was used for farming; the land watered by an intricate system of irrigation.
Chan Chan was established in one of the world's bleakest coastal deserts, where the average annual rainfall was less than a tenth of an inch. It was this dry desert air that allowed the city’s earthen structure to remains to this day. Ironically, due to the changes in weather pattern, today Chan Chan is threatened by too much water, as torrential rains gradually wash away this ancient city.