We pulled into the harbor in Callao, the port for Lima, around noon on January 15. Callao is an old city in its own right, having been founded in the early 16th century and served as Spain’s primary west coast treasure port for quite a long time. The Spanish retreated into the fort here (which is still there, though we didn’t see it) near the end of the war for independence in the 1820’s. Today it is a commercial port, although we passed some fishing boats on our way in.
Lima is by far the largest city in Peru with some 11 million inhabitants. It was founded in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro who planned the street layout himself. You can see our last visit here in 2012 here:
With half the day gone before we arrived we decided to take an excursion to see the Plaza Mayor, also known as the Plaza de Armas, the historic center of the city. The bus trip through Callao was unexceptional (apart from the dense traffic), but we did get a few random pictures through the bus window on the way. In Peru one often sees fully inhabited buildings with rebar sticking out the top like there is more to be built. This is a graphic example of the law of unintended consequences: because unfinished buildings are not taxed, people often leave their buildings visibly “unfinished.”
Our route through Lima took us through two important plazas. The first was Plaza Dos de Mayo, named after an important battle in 1866. It is situated near what was once the city wall and in the center is a statue topped by a figure of Nike, created in France in the 1870’s. Its outstanding characteristic upon passing through was the bright blue buildings.
The second square was Plaza San Martín, named for General Jose de San Martin, liberator of Peru in the 1820’s. The plaza was dedicated in 1921 on the 100th anniversary of Peru’s independence. In the center is an equestrian statue of General San Martin. On one side of the square is the venerable Hotel Bolivar, which has hosted numerous important diplomats and movie stars. The Rolling Stones were thrown out of this hotel for misbehavior. Imagine!
We exited the bus and walked to an imposing Franciscan monastery called Basílica y Convento de San Francisco. This church is famous for being about the only building in central Lima to survive the devastating earthquake of 1746. We toured the museum in the convent but not the church itself. Photography was not permitted inside, which is unfortunate because it was filled with beautiful 16th century Spanish & Moorish tile work, as well as a number of paintings and frescoes of similar age. We did not get to tour the catacombs, which are famous for the elaborate designs made from the bones of some 70,000 people that were buried there.
We walked from the Convent of San Francisco to the Plaza Mayor. It was not far & we passed the church of Nuestra Senora de la Soledad on the way.
We entered the Plaza Mayor by walking past the Archbishop’s Palace, notable for its beautiful carved cedar enclosed balconies. Housing the residence and offices of the Archbishop of Lima, the current building was built in 1924 on land set aside by Francisco Pizarro in 1535 for the residence of the head priest of the city.
The Plaza Mayor or Plaza de Armas is the center of Lima and was the first part of the city. We have read that Francisco Pizarro actually paced out the outlines of the square himself, but whether this is true or not he certainly was the one who selected the site & determined its dimensions. His house was located on one side of the plaza. In 1821 General San Martin declared Peru’s independence in this square. It is a beautiful park-like plaza still today. In the center is a fountain erected in 1651.
Next to the Archbishop’s palace is the Basilica Cathedral of Lima. Begun in 1535 and originally completed in 1649, it has had a number of renovations since after damage by earthquakes. Francisco Pizarro (who else?) laid the first stone and carried the first log on his shoulders.
Inside the cathedral seems quite huge and elaborately decorated.
Chapels line both sides of the cathedral. One contained a statue of Mary contributed by the King of Spain. Another paid homage to the holy family. Many of these chapels have been destroyed several times by earthquakes and rebuilt. A plexiglass cover allowed a view into the crypt, where thousands of remains were found. And there was a beautiful pipe organ in a loft along one side of the room.
The first chapel on the right as you enter the cathedral houses the tomb of Francisco Pizarro. Pizarro was assassinated here in 1541 by relatives and followers of his erstwhile partner, Diego de Almagro. He was apparently interred in the crypt but in the 1890’s a body identified as his was put on display in the cathedral. It turned out not to be Pizarro, for in 1977 another body was found in the crypt labeled as him and forensic analysts determined this was the real thing. These remains were moved to this tomb in 1985. There is a skeleton on display in the chapel, but we were told that this is a reproduction and the real skeleton is in the tomb. Some of the walls are covered in nice mosaics,.
On the north side of the Plaza Mayor is the Government Palace, containing the residence of the president and the executive offices. It sits on the spot where Francisco Pizarro built his governor’s residence in 1536, but has been expanded and rebuilt after fires and earthquakes a number of times since then. The current building was completed in the mid 1930’s. Before Pizarro this was the site of a huaca containing a shrine to the last local indigenous ruler. We did not get to enter this building.
We left the Plaza to the left of the Government Palace and walked a couple of blocks to meet the bus. From that spot we could see the pinkish tower of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo & a large shopping arcade covered with a glass roof.
From here we drove through Lima’s incredibly congested traffic to Miraflores, a wealthy neighborhood situated above an ocean cliff. We visited the Parque del Amor, a popular hangout for young couples. Apparently this has been known as a place for young lovers for a number of decades, but now there is in the center a large statue of a couple kissing called “El Beso.” A brightly colored mosaic wall runs near the edge of the cliff, reportedly inspired by the work of Gaudi in Barcelona. Paragliders pass above the cliff in a never ending parade. The park also has many beautiful flowers.
This evening after dinner there was a folkloric show with a Peruvian music and dance group. They were very colorful & very good. A lot of energy was expended in the performance of several representative Peruvian dances in very colorful costumes. Here are excerpts from the first three dances:
Then the drummer, who also appeared to be the bandleader, came out front for a solo spot drumming with his hands on a box on which he sat. His fingers really flew and it looked like his hands should be very sore afterward, but he resumed the drum chair for the rest of the performance without any apparent detriment.
Then there were two more dances to end the performance.
After the show we went to bed to rest up for another day in Lima tomorrow.