Conquest and Colony of Peru
The conquest of Peru is the historic process of the assimilation of the Inca Empire to the Spanish Empire; it represented a profound social, economic and cultural transformation. These two distinctive cultures first encountered each other five hundred years ago and have progressively assimilated.
With the conquest started the spread of Christianity in South America, most people were forcefully converted to Catholicism taking only a generation to convert the population. They built churches in every city and replaced some of the Inca temples into churches such as the Coricancha in the city of Cusco. The church employed the Inquisition making use of torture to make sure that newly converted Catholics do not stray to other religions or believes. Peruvian Catholicism follows the syncretism found in many Latin American countries, in which religious native rituals have been integrated with Christian celebrations.
The first colonial government was established in 1543 as the Viceroyalty of Peru, the Spanish monarchy ruled its American colonies through the appointment of viceroys. During this period Peru was the heart of the Spanish empire in South America and Lima was its most important city. Lima became a financial, cultural and educational center. San Marcos University, the first university in the Americas, was founded in Lima in 1551. At the beginning of the colony all the trade with Spain had to go through the port of Callao in Lima and, subsequently to Panama. Later, in order to ease communication and trade with Spain the viceroyalty of Peru was split into Viceroyalty of New Granada and Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata.
The conquest brought death and desolation. In a period of 150 years the indigenous population decreased from approximately 9 million to 600,000. Most of them died due to foreign diseases that were unknowingly brought by the Spaniards. Indigenous people did not have immunity against diseases such as smallpox, measles and flu which devastated the local population. Warfare, enslavement and forced labor also contributed to the devastation of the population which led to the speedy disintegration of the empire. The encomienda system gave Europeans unlimited authority over groups of native Peruvians who were plundered, enslaved and subjected to forced labor. The encomienda was based on the person’s ethnicity, only native Peruvians were subjected to it; a mixed race individual was able to escape the service and as a result many sought to dilute their Amerindian ethnicity. Because of lack of available work force, African slaves were added to the labor population.Today the Peruvian society is divided between the wealthy, westernized urban population and the poorer Amerindian people, many of whom have migrated from the Andes to the city in search of better opportunities.
The conquest and colony brought a mix of cultures and ethnicities that did not exist before the Spanish conquered the Peruvian territory. Even though many of the Inca traditions were lost or diluted, new customs, traditions and knowledge were added, creating a rich mixed Peruvian culture.