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Lima Information

Even if you don't have the time or the inclination to search out and savour the delights and agonies of Lima, it is possible to get a good feel for the place in only a few days. Out at Ancón, now a popular beach resort just north of Lima, an important pre-Inca burial site shows signs of occupation - including pottery, textiles, and the oldest-known archer's bow in the entire Americas - from at least three thousand years ago. Although certainly one of the most populous valleys, the Rimac area first showed indications of true urbanization around 1200 AD with the appearance of a strong, independent culture - the Cuismancu State - in many ways parallel to, though not as large as, the contemporary Chimu Empire which bordered it to the north. Cajamarquilla, a huge, somewhat crowded, adobe city-complex associated with the Cuismancu, now rests peacefully under the desert sun only a few kilometres beyond Lima's outer suburbs. Dating from the same era, but some 30km south of the modern city, is the Temple of Pachacamac. For hundreds of years, until ransacked by the conquistadores, this shrine attracted thousands of pilgrims from all over Peru, the Incas being the last in a series of groups to adopt Pachacamac as one of their own major huacas.

When the Spanish first arrived here the valley was dominated by three important Inca -controlled urban complexes: Carabayllo to the north near Chillón; Maranga, now partly destroyed by the Avenida La Marina, between the modern city and the Port of Callao; and Surco, now a suburb within the confines of greater Lima but where, until the mid-seventeenth century, the adobe houses of ancient chiefs lay empty yet painted in a variety of colourful images.

Francisco Pizarro founded Spanish Lima , "City of the Kings", in 1535, only two years after the invasion. Evidently recommended by mountain Indians as a site for a potential capital, it proved essentially a good choice, offering a natural harbour nearby, a large well-watered river valley, and relatively easy access up into the Andes. By the 1550s the town had grown up around a large plaza with wide streets leading through a fine collection of mansions, all elegantly adorned by wooden terraces, and well-stocked shops run by wealthy merchants. Since the very beginning, Spanish Lima has been different from the more popular image of Peru: it looks out, away from the Andes and the past, towards the Pacific for contact with the world beyond.

Lima rapidly developed into the capital of a Spanish viceroyalty which encompassed not only Peru but also Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile. The University of San Marcos, founded in 1551, is the oldest on the continent, and Lima housed the headquarters of the Inquisition from 1570 until 1813. It remained the most important, the richest, and - hardly credible today - the most alluring city in South America, until the early nineteenth century.

Perhaps the most prosperous era for Lima was the seventeenth century . By 1610 its population had reached a manageable 26,000, made up of 40 percent blacks (mostly slaves), 38 percent Spanish, no more than 8 percent pure Indian, another 8 percent (of unspecified ethnic origin) living under religious orders, and less than 6 percent of mixed blood - now probably the largest proportion of inhabitants. The centre of Lima was crowded with shops and stalls selling silks and fancy furniture from as far afield as China. Even these days it's not hard to imagine what Lima must have been like, as a substantial section of the colonial city is still preserved - many of its streets, set in large regular blocks, are overhung by ornate wooden balconies, and elaborate Baroque facades bring some of the older churches to life, regardless of the din and hassle of modern city living. Rimac, a suburb just over the river from the Plaza Mayor, and the port area of Callao, grew up as satellite settlements - initially catering for the very rich, though they are now predominantly "slum" sectors.

The eighteenth century , a period of relative stagnation for Lima, was dramatically punctuated by the tremendous earthquake of 1746, which left only twenty houses standing in the whole city and killed some five thousand residents - nearly ten percent of the population. From 1761 to 1776 Lima and Peru were governed by Viceroy Amat, who, although more renowned for his relationship with the famous Peruvian actress La Perricholi, is also remembered as the instigator of Lima's rebirth. Under him the city lost its cloistered atmosphere, opening out with broad avenues, striking gardens, rococo mansions and palatial salons. Influenced by the Bourbons, Amat's designs for the city's architecture arrived hand in hand with other transatlantic reverberations of the Enlightenment.

In the nineteenth century Lima expanded still further to the east and south. The suburbs of Barrios Altos and La Victoria were poor from the start; above the beaches at Magdalena, Miraflores and Barranco, the wealthy developed new enclaves of their own. These were originally separated from the centre by several kilometres of farmland, at that time still studded with fabulous pre-Inca huacas and other adobe ruins.

It was President Leguia who, in 1919-30 , revitalized Lima by renovating the central areas. Plaza San Martin's attractive colonnades and the Gran Hotel Bolivar were erected, the Palacio de Gobierno was rebuilt, and the city was supplied with its first drinking-water and sewage systems. This was the signal for Lima's explosion into the modern era of ridiculously rapid growth. The three hundred thousand inhabitants of 1930 had become over three and a half million by the mid-1970s , and the population has more than doubled again in the last thirty years or so. Standing at more than eight million today, most of the recent growth is accounted for by massive immigration of peasants from the provinces into the barriadas or pueblos jovenes (young towns) now pressing in on the city along all of its landbound edges. Many of these migrants escaped from the theatre of civil war that raked many highland regions between the early 1980s and 1993.

Today the city is as cosmopolitan as any other in the developing world, with a thriving middle class enjoying living standards comparable to those of the West or better, and an elite riding around in chauffeur-driven cadillacs and heading to Miami for their monthly shopping. The vast majority of Lima's inhabitants, however - who form the very core and essence of the city - scrape together meagre incomes and live in poor conditions.




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