With 9.7 million inhabitants Lima, capital of Peru is the second largest desert city in the world after Cairo. Lima is a city of contrasts. It is surrounded by shantytowns where poverty is rampant, yet many of its suburbs are rich and prosperous, its business district boasts skyscrapers and its shopping malls are ultramodern.
Lima is located on a desert strip that runs from the north to the south of Peru, on the banks of the Rimac River overlooking the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean. Lima is the richest city in Peru; it is where the government is located and is the financial, cultural and educational center of the country.
Historic Center of Lima
The Historic Center of Lima is known as the “Ciudad de los Reyes” or City of Kings. It was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1988. Lima was founded by Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro in 1535 because of its accessibility to the sea. Lima was the economic, social, cultural and political capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru and was also the most important city in the Spanish South American colonies.
During the colonial period magnificent buildings were created in the Historic Center of Lima. The Plaza Mayor was the core of the City of Kings, it is surrounded by the Cathedral of Lima, the Government Palace, the Archbishop’s Palace, the Municipal Palace and the Club de la Union.
The Plaza Mayor is also known as Plaza de Armas, it is the core of the Historic Center of Lima. Lima, as other cities in the New World, was created following an official city plan with a plaza in the center surrounded by a cathedral and administrative institutions, residential areas were developed concentric to the main Plaza. In 1578 Viceroy Francisco de Toledo built the first water fountain as the centerpiece of the Plaza. The current impressive bronze fountain was built in 1651 by Viceroy Garcia Sarmiento de Sotomayor replacing the older one. The Independence of Peru was proclaimed in this plaza by Jose de San Martin.
Basilica Cathedral of Lima
The Cathedral of Lima is the main Catholic temple in Peru. It is located on the east side of the Plaza Mayor and next to the Archbishop Palace. Its construction started with the foundation of Lima in 1535 and was built over the Temple of Puma Inti. Its construction underwent several stages. In 1543 Pope Paulo II designated the church a cathedral, after which additional structures were added. In 1564 archbishop Jeronimo de Loayza ordered its reconstruction based on the Cathedral of Seville, its construction was finished in 1605.
Since its construction four earthquakes have destroyed or damaged the cathedral. The building was rebuilt and renovated each time adding and upgrading its structure.
It is located on the north side of the Plaza Mayor. The Government Palace is the official residence of the President of Peru. It is also known as Casa de Pizarro, as Francisco Pizarro, the founder of Lima, built his residence and the new government of Nueva Castilla in that location. During the following centuries the building was destroyed several times during earthquakes in 1678, 1687 and 1746 and in 1921 a fire destroyed most of its structure. The building served as the residence of Spanish viceroys until the victory of Jose de San Martin in 1821 when Peru gained its independence from Spain. The viceroys were expelled and since then it has been the residence of the Presidents of Peru.
The Archbishop’s Palace is located on the north east corner of the Plaza Mayor, north of the Basilica Cathedral. The palace was built in 1924 as the headquarters of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lima and is the first construction in the neo-colonial style that developed in early 20th century. Within is the Museum of the Archbishop’s Palace which hosts collections of paintings, sculptures and furniture from the 16th to 19th centuries.
Torre Tagle Palace
The Torre Tagle Palace is one of the best examples of colonial architecture. It is located in Jr. Ucayali, one block east of the Plaza Mayor. It was built by Don Jose Tagle y Brachio, Marquis of Torre Tagle, as his personal residence. The Marquis of Torre Tagle was the treasurer of the Royal Spanish Fleet.
On the facade of the building two carved wooden balconies distinguish this mansion. In the interior, rooms are decorated with Seville tiles, finely carved wooden columns, arches and coffered ceilings. Today the Torre Tagle Palace is the home of the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Basilica and Convent of Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo is a cluster of buildings made up of a convent including five cloisters, The Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario, Chapel of San Martin de Porres, and a library. Its building started when Lima was founded in 1535 and finished in 1578. This is where the University of San Marcos, the first university in the Americas, was founded. The original building was totally destroyed by an earthquake in 1678. Successive earthquakes in 1687 and 1746 partially destroyed the church and convent. San Martin de Porres and Santa Rosa de Lima, Peru’s most popular catholic saints are buried in a crypt in the Basilica.
Basilica and Convent of San Francisco
The Basilica and Convent of San Francisco is an example of Spanish Neoclassical architecture. Its construction was completed in 1674. It suffered minor damage in the earthquakes of 1687 and 1745; however the damage was extensive during the 1970 earthquake. Its library contains 25,000 antique texts including the first published Spanish dictionary by the Royal Spanish Academy.
Underneath the basilica and convent there is a network of passageways and catacombs that connects to other churches in the Historic Center of Lima. The catacombs were only discovered in 1943 and it is estimated that around 25,000 bodies rest there. It served as a burial ground until the city grew too big and a cemetery was built outside Lima in 1808.
Lima, Peru Travel
If you are coming from outside of South America you have to fly through Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport and then take a connecting flight to your final destination. Few travelers stay long in this fast moving capital city. Usually undervalued, Lima will appeal to you in many different ways.
Lima boasts some of the finest cuisines in South America, the fusion of Inca, European and Asian cuisines have created an eclectic, yet excellent cuisine. In the coast seafood is a local specialty with high quality restaurants in every price range.
Lima has enough museums, churches, colonial houses and pre-Inca ruins to keep any visitor busy for weeks. The city is a gathering of neighborhoods each with its own distinctive feel and look.
A colonial house in Historic Lima
There are more than 20 museums in Lima but if you are in the city for a few days there are only few worth spending your time in. The Museum of Archeology, Anthropology and History, Larco Museum and the Museum of Art of Lima offer an opportunity to immerse yourself in the Inca Civilization and Peru’s art and history.
Weather in Lima
Lima has a mild temperature all year, not too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. Summer in the southern hemisphere is from mid December to mid March with the temperature fluctuating between 25 to 28C or 77 to 82F. Winter days are grey and humid with temperatures between 12 to 15C or 53 to 59F. Lima is covered in a thick fog called garua that prevents the sun from penetrating making winter days look dark and gray. Click here for more detailed information on Lima weather.
More information about Lima
Historic Lima is the most visited tourist destination, the Center of Lima or Centro de Lima, as locals call it, used to be the entire city with the Plaza the Armas as its heart.
Miraflores is the higher end side of the city and offers some of the most luxurious accommodations in Lima.
San Isidro is one of the upscale districts of Lima with exclusive residential areas featuring some older mansions belonging to old aristocratic families.
At night Barranco becomes the Lima that never sleeps, there is a large concentration of bars, live music nightclubs and peñas.
Like any megalopolis Lima suffers from pollution, traffic and poverty. Water supply is a big issue in a city located in the desert.