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Destination Peru

The Monumental City of Lima

En la Ciudad de los Reyes, fundada en 1535, hay incontables joyas de la arquitectura colonial, incluyendo imponentes templos barrocos y renacentistas, palacetes, mansiones, conventos y edificios públicos.

By: Wilmer Góngora
Photos: William Bello

 

In the City of Kings, founded on January 18, 1535 by Francisco Pizarro, the blocks surrounding the Grand Plaza are still lined with imposing Baroque and Renaissance churches, palazzos, mansions, convents, and government buildings of incomparable beauty. We invite you to discover some of the many Colonial gems of the capital of the Viceroyalty of Perú, which extended across the majority of South America during its heyday, reaching as far as the Isthmus of Panama.

 

Grand Plaza

The true heart of Lima has pulsated with life since it was founded on January 18, 1535. The city design was based on a sketch of the Plaza Mayor (Grand Plaza), which served as a market, bullring, and execution ground during the viceregal era. The country’s most significant events, such as the proclamation of the independence of Perú (1821), have taken place here. The first fountain was built under Viceroy Francisco de Toledo (1578) and later replaced by another viceroy in 1651. It has endured to this day, albeit with some repairs.

In the City of Kings, founded on January 18, 1535 by Francisco Pizarro, the blocks surrounding the Grand Plaza are still lined with imposing Baroque and Renaissance churches, palazzos, mansions, convents, and government buildings of incomparable beauty. We invite you to discover some of the many Colonial gems of the capital of the Viceroyalty of Perú, which extended across the majority of South America during its heyday, reaching as far as the Isthmus of Panama.

Coat-of-Arms of the Marquis of Atavillos

The Spanish Crown granted this title of nobility to reward Francisco Pizarro for his loyalty, making him a Marquis without a marquisate, although his descendants were known as “marquises of the conquest” after liberation from the Crown. His high-relief coat-of-arms adorns the side door of the Government Palace.

Crypt of Francisco Pizarro

A chapel inside the Metropolitan Cathedral preserves the conqueror’s remains, which are watched over by paintings that depict scenes of Peruvian history and various other works of art. These include Pizarro’s impressive coat-of-arms and a colorful Venetian mosaic, comprised of more than 3 million tiny pieces illustrating the crucial moment when Pizarro drew a line in the sand on Gallo Island and challenged his exhausted soldiers: “On this side you go to Panama to be poor, on that side you go to Perú to be rich.” The conqueror was stabbed to death in the Lima palace by loyalists of his compatriot Diego de Almagro.

Lima Cathedral

Lima Cathedral, which took more than 100 years to build (1535-1649), has risen anew after devastating earthquakes. The Renaissance-style façade is richly decorated and plentifully supplied with statues, while the interior represents a gamut of styles, from late Gothic and Renaissance to Baroque and Plateresque, as evident in the three main naves and two additional ones; nine side chapels open off these latter two. The ceiling of the central nave features Gothic-style ribs.

Marshal Domingo Nieto Cavalry Regiment

Used as a presidential escort, this distinctly Peruvian cavalry regiment recalls the cavalry of 19th century France. Formed in 1904, it is a military homage to the values of respecting and defending the Constitution. The regiment’s loyalty and bravery are on display in the ceremony of the changing of the presidential guard, which features a military band repertoire. Spectators are moved by the singing of the national anthem and folk songs. The performance has proved popular enough to be recorded as an album.

Government Palace

This gorgeous Neo-Baroque construction inspired by the French-style also shows touches of Neo-Colonial (Neo-Plateresque) style; it is the seat of the Executive branch and the official residence of the country’s presidents. The building has been devastated by six earthquakes, four ransackings, and three fierce fires that destroyed it partially or completely, to the point that it finally needed to be entirely rebuilt in 1938. The new building stands on the same plot Pizarro claimed when he founded the city and where he built his own home with a central courtyard and a fig tree in the garden. The tree still stands.

Basilica and Convent of St. Francis

The grace and majesty of the Baroque façade draws the eye to this religious complex that dates to the very moment of the city’s founding, when Pizarro arrived with a legion of Franciscans who were then granted the plots on which this imposing church stands. Since the original church (1546) was devastated by earthquakes, the current structure dates back to just 1672. Its beauty, opulence, and history have made it a National Cultural Heritage Site and an obligatory stop on any tour.

Crypts of St. Francis

Also known as catacombs for their similarity to those in Rome, this spine-chilling place in the Basilica of St. Francis is a series of subterranean vaults that served as a cemetery until the beginning of the 19th century. Visitors touring the site can admire the vaulted and flat ceilings joined by passageways, arches, rectangular sepulchers, and a fair number of bones, categorized by type and jumbled together like those in a pauper’s grave; some are arranged in artistic geometric patterns. A few of the doors of this crypt allegedly lead to other churches and even to the Government Palace.

Basilica and Convent of St. Dominic

Just like the Franciscans, the Dominican friars arrived in these lands with Pizarro and the conqueror ceded them plots on which to build their churches. The church was finished in 1578, but destroyed by an earthquake 100 years later, setting off a cycle of earthquake damage and subsequent reconstructions. St. Martín de Porres (1579-1639) lived here, locked in a minuscule cell, today an altar, which does not seem to have prevented him performing miracles of healing, teleporting himself to distant lands, charming animals, making fruit grow out of season, and above all, confronting the devil in the flesh.

Tomb of St. Rose of Lima

Isabel Flores de Oliva (1586-1617), the first saint in the Americas, was canonized by Pope Clement X as St. Rose of Lima in 1671. One year earlier, she had been named the principal patron saint of the Americas, the Philippines, and the East Indies. She has been credited with several miracles. Her remains lie inside the St. Dominic complex, where Maltese sculptor Melchor Cafa (1661) sculpted the saint’s transition to glory in Carrara marble in a work that shows a marked influence of the great Italian Baroque masters.

Archbishop’s Palace

While the current structure opened in 1924, the history of this palace dates to 1535, when Francisco Pizarro allocated this plot of land for an episcopal residence upon founding the city. The extreme beauty of this National Cultural Heritage Site is exemplified by the façade, made entirely of recovered stone in the Neo-Colonial style with Baroque touches. The two enormous Neo-Baroque balconies, carved in cedar, reflect the sensuality of Andalusia. It is the residence of the Archbishop of Lima.

Aliaga House

This house dates all the way back to 1536. It was built by Pizarro’s friend Jerónimo de Aliaga y Ramírez, who was granted the land on which it stands when Lima was founded. The house has undergone many repairs over the centuries, but it is now one of the city’s must-sees owing to its well-preserved Republican design. It is famous for its foyer, Tile Room, and elegant Gold Room, among other features of this historic mansion that reveals just how imposing this viceregal city once was.

Post and Telegraph Office

Constructed in 1897 in the French style, the building now houses the National Postal and Philatelic Museum, which features permanent exhibits of objects associated with the history of Lima. Inside is a gallery of art and handicrafts free to the public, along with the headquarters of the Museum of Peruvian Gastronomy (2011). The Museum should not be missed by anyone interested in learning about the history and complexit

 


Getting There

From North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean, Copa Airlines offers six flights daily to Lima through its Hub of the Americas in Panama City.