History of Lima

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The city of Lima could well be described as a progressive mixture of races, cultures, architectures and arts, all different from one another, which have fused over the course of time into a distinct cultural identity, one that still dominates the city today. This means that visitors to the capitol have so much to choose from, such as ancient temples built long before the Spanish conquest, beautiful colonial palaces, old-fashioned neighbourhoods, night-clubs, dusky taverns, alluring empty beaches and all sorts of idyllic places.

Lima before the Conquest

Before the arrival of the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, the area that Lima would later occupy, was inhabited by many different peoples. These succeeded each other in time, leaving numerous constructions as testimony of their existence. One such place is the Temple of Pachacamac, built in homage to the ancient god of the Wari civilisation, their own 'Creator of the Universe'. The site is situated on the outskirts of Lima in the Lurín district.

Some of the other architectural huacas or remains found within the city are Pucllana and Huallamarca, and there are museums that house beautiful works of art created by these civilisations in honour of their gods and deities. Relics from many other pre-Hispanic cultures can be found in the Museo de Antropología, Arqueología e Historia (Anthropology, Archaeology and History Museum) as well as in the Oro del Perú (Peruvian Gold Museum), which houses some exquisite ornaments made from precious metals.

The city of Kings

Francisco Pizarro founded Lima on the 18th of January 1535, and the city was to become the jewel of the Spanish Empire, capital of its most extensive Viceroyalty. It was constructed along the lines of a Roman settlement, with 117 blocks built around the nucleus of a main square, where the Cathedral, the "Cabildo" or town council and the Governor's Palace were located, this last being the residence of Pizarro himself. Today, after being completely restored at the beginning of the twentieth century, the palace is occupied by the Peruvian government executive.

Lima's old "Cabildo" was refurbished after independence from Spain, and became the Municipalidad (seat of the city authorities), its biggest treasure being a library that has hardly changed since the building was founded. Other famous constructions from that period are the elegant mansions situated on the estates that Pizarro bestowed on the city's founders, like the one which belonged to the conquistador Jerónimo de Aliaga, still intact after eighteen generations.

Lima's many churches are the result of fervent devotion to the Catholic faith, along with other religious orders that settled in the colony. There are many different styles, from the Renaissance architecture of the Cathedral to San Francisco's Baroque appearance and the exuberant Rococo of The Temple of the Nazarene. Thus visitors, wherever they choose to walk, will always find a church to admire, both in the façade as well as the interior decoration.

During the colonial era there was a succession of viceroys sent from the Court of the Habsburgs in Spain, and among these, Francisco de Toledo perhaps stands out most of all. He subdued the rebellion of the last Vilcabamba Incas, and propelled mining in the Viceroyalty onto a grand scale, so helping to turn the Spanish Empire into a world power as a consequence. Although most of the precious metals (mainly silver) were sent to Spain, enough was retained so as to be transformed into beautiful altars and ornaments for the local churches.

Not all was power and religion in the colony; social standing was strictly determined by the division of Spaniards and Native Americans into dominant and subjugated castes. However, before long a third group would appear, the Creoles - American-born Spaniards. The term implied a cultural syncretism of the old and new worlds. The Creoles were to constitute an important section of society, one that would eventually instigate the rebellion for independence from Spain.

Independence and the Republic

Peru finally gained its independence in 1824 with the support of multinational armed forces from neighbouring countries, and Lima became a city of Creoles, Native and Afro Americans. The War of Independence was succeeded by numerous power skirmishes within the country that were to last for decades, producing a succession of different governments. The country then entered the golden age of 'Guano', a highly prosperous period financed by the export, mainly to Europe, of the coveted fertiliser, found in huge amounts on the Pacific coast. Lima, as a result of the boom, was embellished with parks, boulevards, monuments, museums and works of art. During this time there was a significant influx of immigrants, both from around Europe as well as China, the so-called "Coolies", who replaced African slaves on the sugar plantations, and were also used to extract the guano.

Lima, however, was to become and still is a huge cultural mosaic, a condition particularly reflected in the local cuisine, which offers an exquisite variety of tastes and dishes.

After the war against Chile in 1879, the city was left sacked and devastated. A process of reconstruction ensued that modernised the capital with grand avenues, parks and gardens, as well as cafes and other bohemian hangouts. The peak of this period of restructuring was during the government of Augusto Leguía in the early part of the twentieth century. He commissioned the great public works that established the foundations of the modern city, like Avenida Arequipa with its important buildings, and the Escuela de Bellas Artes (School of Fine Arts).

The following decades witnessed a demographic explosion and migration from the country to the city, which forced Lima to grow in a chaotic and disordered manner. However, the old city centre and republican avenues still stand as testimony to the colonial origins of this beautiful city.