Historic Lima, Perú

Our Visit to Perú: Historic Lima

Time for one last look at our all-too-brief three day stay in Lima. I’ve talked about Walking in Lima, and tantalized your taste buds with Delicious Lima. Now it time to take a quick tour of two small portions of Historic Lima.

Every year, tens of thousands of visitors make their way to Perú to explore the ancient ruins left by the Incans and other pre-Colombian civilizations. Rita and I were no exception, as we were mainly in Perú to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and spend some time exploring Cusco and the nearby sites.

Imagine our surprise to find that there is a site that was old before work even began on Machu Picchu, right in the heart of modern Lima. We were able to walk to this interesting destination from our hotel – much easier than the Inca Trail, believe me. Rising up among the office buildings in the Miraflores District of Lima, we found the dusty-grey adobe brick pyramid of Huaca Pucllana.

Ruins of a pre-Incan civilization in the heart of modern Lima

The Lima people, a primitive society that lived along the coast of Perú between 200-700AD, built this amazing ceremonial center around 600-700AD. They were mostly hunter/gatherers, but they also fished and began a system of agriculture. After 700AD, the Lima society underwent many changes, mostly from the influence of new empires like the Wan, and the site was abandoned. The Wan and later Incan Empires may have used the site for burials, but mostly it was ignored. The Spanish conquerors setup a watchtower there, as it was the highest structure and gave a view of the ocean, but it became just a hill over time, often covered with garbage and debris.

It wasn’t until 1981 that the Huaca Pucllana Site Museum was established, and Lima began to take steps to reveal and restore the site as a learning and tourist center. Guided daytime tours are available everyday but Tuesday from 9am-5pm for just 12 soles for adults (about $3.70). There are also night tours every evening except Monday and Tuesday between 7-10pm, where you can experience the site dramatically lit by hidden spotlights. Night tours are 15 soles ($4.62). We took the tour, which takes about an hour, and enjoyed very much climbing up and down the pyramid, and looking at the exhibits.

Depiction of early “Lima Peoples”, as out guide called them.

Panorama shot from half-way up the pyramid

Burial site near the summit

There was a small agricultural area, where they had examples of typical crops of the era, along with a few guinea pigs (important food animal) and of course some token llamas. They also had a few of the ugliest dogs you will find in any hemisphere. I forget the particular breed, I suspect the Latin name is something like canis familiaris repugnus.

You can dress it up, but it’s still not attractive

It was an interesting visit, and we felt lucky that we had a cloudy morning. An hour of walking around under the sun, and we would have been as dried out as some of the adobe bricks. As it was, our timing was perfect – the sun was just starting to make its way through the clouds as we were finishing up our tour, and ready to jump in a cab to the Plaza de Armas to see the old Colonial capital.

The city was officially founded on January 18, 1535, when the conquistador Francisco Pizarro, conforming to procedure established by King Charles I of Spain, designated a location to build the large, square plaza. Among the building surrounding the Plaza are the Municipal Palace, the Government Palace, The Cathedral of Lima, and the Archbishop’s Palace. We took tours of the latter two, but first we enjoyed the beautiful Plaza itself.

Plaza de Armas, Lima Perú

The Plaza has served as a market, a bull fighting arena, and a place of execution for heretics. Today, it is much more tranquillo, with manicured flower gardens and a central fountain.

This fountain has been in use since its inauguration on September 8, 1651

Historic Lima, Perú

Historic Lima, Perú

Our first stop was a tour of the Cathedral of Lima, completed in 1622. This is a beautiful and imposing building, with three large entrances, and two towers, topped in slate spires. Inside are 14 side chapels, each elaborately decorated.

Cathedral of Lima

We also ran into Francisco Pizarro inside – at least, what is left of him. His tomb is onsite, and there is a display showing some of his skeleton.

Pizarro’s bones


Here are just a few of the side chapels. Most are made of cedar wood, with gold and silver plating in some cases.

Note the painted relief work of the headless John the Baptist being prepared for burial at the bottom

The main altar of the church is just stunning, as you might expect.

Main altar, Cathedral of Lima.

Close-up of the altar

Columns and high, arched ceiling of the church

We also spent some time in the crypts underneath the church. Some areas required duck-walking through cramped tunnels.

Entrance to a crypt

Family burial

I ain’t got no body ….

Back above ground, we also visited the attached museum. There you can enjoy various works of art, old relics saved from the church’s past, vestments, and more.

Entrance to the museum displays

The next stop on our self-guided tour of the Plaza de Armas was right next door, at the Palace of the Archbishop. This is a large reintegrated rock building, with two very distinctive and ornate cedar balconies.

Palace of the Archbishop

Detail on one of the cedar balconies

Although it looks like it was built in the 16th century, the current building was actually completed at the end of 1924 – making it almost modern. The interior is completely ornate, and is home to a sculpture of Santa Barbara the patron of Cuba. The ceiling is illuminated by famous French stained glass windows allowing the entry of light. The interior also contains marble staircases with wooden handrails which allow access to the second story.

We paused there for a quick selfie, and to scare the kids by claiming we had just spent their inheritance.

“Hi kids, check out the house we just bought in Perú!”

Here’s a better look at this staircase. Truly beautiful.

View looking down the central staircase. Note the stained glass skylight.

Behind the staircase on the first floor, is one of those “cute” peeing baby statues. I think this one is titled “Look ma, no hands!”

Sure, when he does it, it’s “cute”. When I do it, I’m a “pervert”, “gross” and ” a public health hazard”.

This building is really something to see: just room after room of beautiful antique furniture and art work. And of course, the archbishop has his own chapel on the top floor.

Just one of the rooms in the Palace

Altar in the private chapel

Intricate woodworking on the cedar ceilings

By this time, we had walked up quite an appetite. While we were standing on the steps in front of the Palace trying to decide which way to go for lunch, a local helped us out by recommending Restaurante Don Juan. This turned out to be an excellent suggestion – check out Delicious Lima for more details.

After lunch, with the Inner Man sated, we waddled back over to the Plaza to walk to our last stop for the day. We walked past the Cathedral and Archdiocese, along a pedestrian walkway with shops and little bars and restaurants that deserve another check next time, and into the plaza at the Basilica y Convento San Francisco.

Pedestrian walkway on the way to the convent. You can see one of the towers in the distance.

Basilico y Convento San Francisco de Lima

The convent is an interesting place. The church and monastery were blessed in 1673 and completed in 1674. Though it survived several earthquakes intact in 1687 and 1746, it suffered extensive damage in an earthquake in 1970. The church is noted for its architecture, a high example of Spanish Baroque.

Close up of the detailed craftsmanship over the door of the cathedral

The vaults of the central and two side naves are painted in a mix of Moorish and Spanish designs. The main altar is totally made from wood. The halls of the head cloister are inlaid with Sevillian glazed tiles dating from the 1620s.

Painted tile and high, soaring arches

The convent’s library is world-renowned. It possesses about 25,000 antique texts, some of them predating the Spanish conquest. They have the first Spanish dictionary published by the Royal Spanish Academy, and a Holy Bible edition from 1571- 1572 that was printed in Antwerp, to name just two. They also have an extensive music library, with large sheets that choir members could read from a distance.

Main altar in the church

Detail of religious icon

Just one of the side naves

The convent includes a wonderfully verdant central court, and more spooky catacombs to explore. Discovered in 1943, they contain thousand of skulls and bones, having served as a burial-place until 1808, when the city cemetery was opened outside Lima. It is estimated that 25,000 bodies were laid to rest there; the crypts, built of bricks and mortar, are very solid and have stood up well to earthquakes, it is also believe there existed secret passageways that connected to the Cathedral and the Tribunal of the Holy Inquisition.

Now it is still a working place of seclusion for Franciscan monks, and a popular museum destination. It is also very much connected to the community. We really enjoyed watching children chasing the pigeons in the square.

Children playing in front of the church

That’s it for our three-part report on our trip to Lima. I hope you enjoyed them, and that it encourages you to take a trip to Perú and experience some of this fascinating and delightful city for yourself. Rita and I are looking forward to a longer return visit soon!


Tags: , , , ,

One Comment

  • Jo Alice Mospan says:

    Have really enjoyed these posts–thank you. When we toured Lima, we did go to the plaza, saw the fountain, walked around, and also went to th Cathedral. Brings back some great memories for us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *