Went on a morning trip into town (i.e. into Ica) from Huacachina today, to check out the famous Museo Regional de Ica ("Ica Regional Museum"). Chris and I explored the museum's three sections: a history of the region's pre-colonial cultures, and their artefacts and politics; the colonial section; and the most famous section of all, the "anthropology section", which is filled with skulls and preserved mummies of the ancient peoples of the area. All was very interesting; although the third section was downright gross.
Sorry, but photography was prohibited in the museum (and they had people on patrol), so I didn't get any pics.
The first two sections of the museum show that Ica has quite a rich history, and has always been quite a significant area within Peru. Two to three thousand years ago, it was the home of the ancient Paracas civilisation, which was at the time one of the most powerful civilisations in the area, and which had a very distinctive — almost cartoon-like, I thought — style of artwork and ceramics. The Paracas people were also closely related to the Nazca civilisation, that was responsible for making those big lines in the desert.
Later, mainly between 500 and 1500 AD, the area came under the domination of the Waris, who were based in the Ayacucho area, in the mountains to the north-east. Then — as with almost everywhere in this part of the world — in the 1400s and the 1500s, it was conquered by the Incan empire, and came under the dominion of Cusco, as part of Pachacutec's massive Imperial expansion. Finally, it was conquered by the Spanish; and it became an important area in terms of the War of Independence against the Spanish, which was fought and won around the year 1820.
As for the anthropology section of the museum: well, if I had some photos, then I'm sure you'd agree that it's pretty freaky. They have a large number of deformed skulls: the Paracas civilisation (in particular) practiced the "art" of head deformation on people, squeezing their skulls into cone-shapes from the age of infancy, so that people would grow up having very weird heads (apparently, they did it for "aesthetic reasons" — go figure). They also boast a collection of "trophy heads", which were commonly worn on the belts of the elite, back in the day, and which were human heads that had the eye sockets stuffed with cotton, and the lips of the mouth pinned together with cactus spines. Ouch! They look very disturbing.
But not as disturbing as the mummies. Apparently, because the desert around here is so hot and dry, the ancient bodies have been extremely well-preserved: and when you see them, it's clear that this is indeed true. Personally, I'd rather they be a little less well-preserved. The mummies still have hair, eyes, and a bit of skin. They have a few mummies of little children, from several thousand years ago, who are crouched up inside their glass airtight boxes, staring back at you in horror. Charming.
So that's the Museo Regional de Ica. Not much else to see in Ica, really: we explored town a bit; but apart from cheap Internet places, cheap restaurants, and banks, there isn't much to see here, or much reason to hang around here. It's clear why everyone goes straight to Huacachina, and stays there: much more fun, and much more atmosphere. But still, Ica seems like a nice place: crazy but friendly, which is exactly what I look for in my South American cities.