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Lima's Colonial Center - Indian Chief Travel
PERU  |  Lima, Peru Travel Guide
Monday, June 17, 2019
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Lima's Colonial Center

Lima's Colonial Center

This was the center for Spain’s control over the wealth of the new world. The architectural gems, the churches and mansions, are very much worth preserving. The earthquakes of 1746 and 1940 have destroyed many of the buildings, so some now date only to the late 19th and early 20th century. Buildings were torn down to make room for new roads or were left to rot as the center of the city shifted to the suburbs. The 1990s saw a renewed interest in the buildings and a revival of sorts is underway. Most visitors no longer stay in the Center and, unless you have an early flight and want to be 10 minutes closer to the airport, it is recommended you stay elsewhere. There are a few nice hotels here, though, and if your interest is solely to see Colonial architecture and visit museums it can be a pleasant stay. The area can be dangerous at night, so you should always use taxis. The official center sits between Plaza Mayor and Plaza San Martín, but a much wider area is generally accepted as the Colonial center.

Colonial Lima only occupied a small part of the modern city. The Damero de Pizarro (“Pizarro’s Chessboard”) extended for 13 blocks by nine blocks. Immigration from Spain and the importation of black slaves quickly expanded the city, however.

The general starting point for tours of the Colonial Center is Plaza Mayor, or the Plaza de Armas, which is one block south of the Río Rimac and where several other attractions are located. It is the original center of the city that Pizarro first founded, although the earthquake of 1746 destroyed most of the buildings. The central bronze fountain, which dates back to 1651, did survive. The Plaza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Palacio de Gobierno, or the Government Palace, on the north side of the square, is the seat of the Peruvian government. The majestic building has priceless works of art and carvings inside.

Elsewhere in the Plaza, the Municipalidad de Lima (City Hall) is on the west side, La Catedral is on the east, as is the Palacio Episcopal (Archbishop’s Palace) and its famed wooden balcony. The Cathedral was completely destroyed in the earthquake, but rebuilt in 1755 on the same design as the original, which was a copy of the Seville cathedral but with three naves. Precious oil paintings and carvings surround silver altars. The carved wooden choir stalls are some of the most famous on the continent. The remains of Francisco Pizarro are thought to be in either the glass coffin near the entrance or in the crypt. Open Mon-Sat 10 am-2:30 pm. Admission 5 soles. The Museo de Arte Religioso, or the Museum of Religious Art, inside has free guided tours.

There are a few sites of interests just off the Plaza. The Philatelic Museum, located in the central post office, houses a collection of Peruvian stamps and information on the Incan postal system. Open daily 8:15 am-1 pm and 2-6 pm. Admission is free.

Two blocks south of Plaza Mayor is Iglesia La Merced (Union and Quesada, 427-8199). It was built on the site of Lima’s first mass in 1534. Notable features on the 18thcentury building are the Baroque façade, the altars, and tile work. The silver cross dedicated to Padre Urraca, a 17thcentury priest, is frequently prayed to, touched, and alms are left. Open Mon-Sat 8 am-noon.

Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco (Plazeula San Francisco, 426-7377), was also named a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site. It is one of the most fascinating attractions in the city and a sure stop on every tour. Built in 1674, the yellow and white Baroque church withstood the 1746 earthquake. Cloisters are lavishly decorated with Sevillian tiles and carved mudejar, or Moorish-style, ceilings. The catacombs beneath the church are filled with thousands upon thousands of bones, many of them arranged in intricate patterns. As many as 75,000 bodies were laid to rest here. The tour, which lasts 1½ hours and can be given in English, walks you through the sights mentioned above, a religious art museum, and a 17th-century library with 20,000 books. Open daily 9:45 am-6 pm. Admission 5 soles adults/2.50 soles students.

Palacio Torre Tagle (Ucayali 363), a few blocks east of Plaza Mayor, was built in 1763 and is an excellent example of Colonial architecture. Visitors are no longer allowed inside, so you can only see the carved wooden balconies and the Baroque stone doorway

Another Colonial remnant, Casa Aliaga (Union 224, 447-6624), which can only be viewed vía Lima Tours, is still lived in by the descendents of the original family. Built in 1535, it is the oldest house in Lima. The mansion has a stunning inner patio and a fine array of Colonial-style furniture.

Museo Taurino (Hualgayoc 332, 482-3360), the bullfighting museum, is just over the Puente de Piedra, a Roman-style bridge that crosses the Río Rimac. Open Mon-Fri 9 am-3 pm and Sat 9 am-2 pm. The Plaza de Acho Bullring, once the largest in the world, is next door.

Nearby Plaza Bolivar, between Av. Abancay and Jr. Ayacucho, is where José de San Martín declared independence. A statue of the liberator now graces its center.

Museo de la Inquisición y del Congreso (Junín 548, 311-7777), the Museum of the Inquisition, is just across the street from the present House of Congress. The museum is dedicated to the infamous Spanish Inquisition that killed at least 32 people in Lima. The courtroom, or Tribunal Room, has a beautiful, elegant carved wooden ceiling. Many of the other rooms are restored from the Colonial-era house that predates the museum and there are a host of exhibits. The catacombs and prison cells are the most interesting parts of the building. There are somewhat cheesy representations of those accused of heresy in the 18th century being tortured, although the torture tools and settings are realistic. Guided tours are in several languages, but expect to wait for a little while if you don’t speak Spanish. Mon-Sun 9 am-5 pm. Admission 5 soles.

The Churrigueresque façade (1720) of San Agustín (Ica and Camaná, 427-7548) is one of the finest examples of that style of architecture. Hours are sporadic.

Parts of nearby Santo Domingo (Superunda and Camaná, 427-6793) and its monastery date back as far as 1603. The tombs of San Martín de Porres, a revered saint, and Santa Rosa de Lima, are beneath the sacristy.

Las Nazarenas Church (Huancavelica and Tacna) is one of the most historically interesting places in the city. The church was constructed in the 18th century around a painting of Christ by an Angolan slave. The image is known as El Señor de Milagros, or the Lord of Miracles, and each October numerous processions are held in its honor. The image became darkened by all of the candles that were set before it, and had a special meaning for Lima’s African population, who felt that Christ was watching over them too. It has become the most adored image in Lima, by all races, classes, and creeds. The image was painted on the house that was used by a black brotherhood in the same location before the church was built. In the earthquake of 1655, the wall holding the image of Christ remained intact and the legend grew from there. The authorities ordered it painted over or removed, but every attempt was thwarted. In the end they gave it official recognition and the church was built.

Plaza San Martín, five blocks southwest of Plaza Mayor, is another impressive main square. As at Plaza Bolivar, a monument of José de Martín is at the center.

Gran Parque Cultural de Lima, also known as Parque de la Expocision, is a sanctuary of green and shade in a congested part of the city. It sometimes hosts craft and food markets on weekends, children’s theater performances, and other special events. There’s also a pond with paddleboats, amphitheater, food court, and Japanese garden.

The Museo de Arte (Paseo Colon 125, 423-6332) sits on the edge of the park. Several floors are dedicated to more than 7,000 exhibits. There are extensive collections of Pre- Columbian artifacts and pottery, Colonial art, furniture, modern paintings, and special exhibitions. Open Tues-Sun 10 am-5 pm. Admission 12 soles adults/six soles students.

The nearby Museo de Arte Italiano (Paseo de la República 250, 423-9932) is a small yet wonderful museum that many miss. The Neoclassical building was a gift from Italy in celebration of Peru’s independence. There are many statues and paintings, mostly from the early 20th century, crammed into the three high-ceilinged rooms. Open Mon-Fri 9 am-4 pm. Admission 1 sole.

The Santuario de Santa Rosa (Tacna block 1, 425-1279), or the Sanctuary of Santa Rosa, was built on the site of the birth of Lima’s first saint. Asmall garden was built in the 17th century for her prayers and meditations. There is also a small church. Open daily 9 am-1 pm and 3-6 pm. Admission free.

Cerro San Cristóbal, the mountain that dominates downtown Lima, can be reached by a tour that leaves from in front of Santa Domingo. The tour lasts about an hour and leaves every 15 minutes on weekends from 10 am-9 pm. Price is 5 soles. You can go via taxi for about $5 round-trip. A huge illuminated cross that stands there can be seen from across the city and is the objective of a pilgrimage every May 1.

Last updated February 27, 2008
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