After spending close to a month touring Peru, Bob and I returned to the capital city of Lima and spent our last day touring the city’s old quarter before flying back to Canada.
Having checked into our hotel in the district of Miraflores, one of the suburbs of Lima, we then made our way by taxi to the historical central area of Lima. It was there, in this now bustling Colonial core, that Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro founded Lima on January 18, 1535. Pizarro named it la Ciudad de los Reyes, or “the City of Kings”.
Today, Pizarro’s Colonial central core of Lima still exists, but very few of his original buildings have survived the severe earthquakes that have shaken this city since his time.
As Bob took this picture of me standing on the edge of the Plaza Mayor (main Square) in Lima, the vehicular and pedestrian traffic moved constantly around us. Behind me, with the Peruvian flag flying from its roof, is the Presidential Palace (Palace of Pizarro) .
Bob and I were very surprised to learn that, over the past 300 years, Peru’s wealthy and powerful rulers have worked very hard to make sure that Lima became a South American “Paris”. During that time, Lima’s urban planners, like those in Paris, brought about the building of endless palaces, gardens, churches, and Romanized civic buildings. We were blown away when we looked upon the baroque façade of Iglesia de la Merced with its ornate columns wrapped in carefully-carved grapevines. It was amazing!
When Francisco Pizarro founded Lima in 1535, the first building he built was Casa de Pizarro (Pizarro’s Castle), seen here. Unfortunately, Pizarro decided to build his Casa right on top of the former Inca ruler’s palace. Over time, Pizarro’s castle became the central point from which the Spanish Empire enjoyed its 282 year rule of South America. But even for all its supposed might, not much of Pizarro’s original castle remains today. That reality is due to the natural destruction caused by earthquakes over the years.
As Bob and I walked about the Square and took in the view of Pizarro’s castle, it was interesting to consider that this building was built here by chance. In fact, Pizarro had thought about building this palace in different locations in Peru, but in the end, he chose Lima because it had good access to the Pacific Ocean and gave him a safe means to load and transport all the gold and silver that he and his men took from the Inca in the sacking and destruction of their Empire. Today, Pizarro’s former castle is now the official residence of the Peruvian president. It is also now fittingly the central seat of the democratically-elected government of Peru.
From the south corner of the Presidential Palace, a peaceful urban setting spread before us: a mixture of people carrying musical instruments, mothers pushing strollers, and businessmen on cellphones – in general, life moving ahead. After taking this picture, we crossed the street and spoke with one of the Palace guards, only to learn that tours of the building take place everyday for those interested. With time running short, we opted to continue our walking tour of the streets and walkways of the district.
We made our way across the square from the Presidential Palace to this beautiful yellow building, which is the Palacio Municipal (City Hall). Once again, this building is not the original City Hall of 1535; the original finally succumbed to destruction by the numerous earthquakes. This present day building was built in 1939. I really appreciate the work that went into the intricately-carved wooden screens on these balconies. They certainly grace the exterior of the building.
Many of Lima’s old colonial buildings featured balconies enclosed with intricately-carved wooden screens. It is unfortunate that, today, only around 1,600 of these balconies remain in tact. Back in the 17th century, these balconies served a dual purpose. Given the intense heat of the locale, the balconies main function was to serve as a form of air conditioning by catching cross breezes that helped to cool the interior of the buildings. The other purpose was more clandestine in character. By nature of the wooden screens, the upper class women were able to secretly observe activities in the square with no risk of being seen themselves.
The City Hall’s exterior hallway provided a cool retreat from the sun with its stately arched columns and harlequin floor tiles. The building houses an art gallery and also an important historical library that holds a copy of the original ‘Charter of Foundation of Lima’, which is signed by Francisco Pizarro.
Framed in the middle of this picture is the Central Post Office. This European-styled building was first opened in 1897. Over time, this building has played many key roles in the communication industry of Peru. Beyond being Peru’s main Post Office, it also was Peru’s central relay station for the transmission of all telegraphs in the country. Later, when the telephone came along, a portion of the building became home to Peru’s first telephone switchboard. It only made sense, then, that Bob and I took time out to send an email via our cellphone while standing inside this building.
The next stop on our walking tour was at Convento de Santo Domingo, one of Lima’s most important religious sites. The baroque base of the bell tower is another example of the ostentatious architecture of the day.
This powder pink building was built by a Dominican Friar, Vicente de Valverde, who accompanied Pizarro on his conquest of Peru. Ironically, it was Friar Vicente de Valverde who convinced Pizarro to execute the Inca leader, Atahualpa, who once owned all of this land where the massive structure now stands.
The Iglesia de San Francisco (Church of Saint Francis) is a stately and ornately constructed building with a buttery-yellow facade and is an excellent example of “Lima Baroque” style of architecture. This church is the most visited church in all of Lima and for a very good reason. Sequestered in a huge network of catacombs and galleries beneath this church are the bones of some 70,000 people. Since colonial times, those cool dark recesses had served as the city’s cemetery, up until 1808.
The tour of the catacombs enticed Bob and I so we joined a group that was about to descend into the underground labyrinth of tunnels. What a shocking discovery when we emerged into the first catacomb housing almost a pretty arrangement of perfectly white bones. Great care has been taken to stack the bones in tidy geometric patterns, but that did little to ease the disturbingly eerie feeling we both were experiencing. The pictures can speak for themselves.
After resurfacing into the bright sunlight and fresh air, Bob and I heaved a sigh of relief. Somehow, the beautiful grand buildings surrounding Plaza San Martin seemed all the more spectacular after the sobering tour of the underworld. One prime example of the stately architecture here is the Gran Hotel Bolívar.
In the centre of the square is this statue named after José de San Martin. Today, he is still considered a hero for bringing about South American independence from Spain. After years of fighting Spanish royalist forces in South America, San Martin helped bring about Peruvian independence in July of 1821. The city of Lima paid tribute to San Martin, naming him the Protector of a Free Peru.
And so our travels to the world of Peru came to an end, but many memories will live with us forever. Beyond the natural beauty of the country, and the cultural treasures we saw and experienced, the people themselves are a very big reason for why we will someday return to Peru.
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