On this day in 1535 the city of Lima - currently the capital of and largest city in Peru - was founded by Francisco Pizarro (shown below, at right) in the fertile area at the mouth of the Rímac River. Following Pizarro's war against the Inca Empire, which came to an end after his defeat of the Inca ruler Atahualpa, he cast his eyes about for a suitable place to build a capital from which he could rule these conquered lands on behalf of the Spanish Crown. Although originally he wanted to build it at Jauja, he was convinced to find a place closer to the ocean to benefit trade, and he settled on Lima - which he initially named Ciudad de los Reyes (City of the Kings) - forty miles north of the old Inca city of Pachacamac.
The city was laid siege to in August 1536 by Manco Inca, as part of an abortive rebellion against Spanish rule; following heavy fighting in the streets of the new settlement, Pizarro's troops prevailed. In November 1536 the Spanish Crown confirmed the founding, and the city was granted its coat of arms by Spanish King and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in December 1537.
As the city flourished due to trade, it was granted a diocese in 1541* - the same year Pizarro was assassinated by Don Diego de Almagro there; in turn Lima became the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru and site of a Real Audiencia in 1543. Saint Mark University was established in May 1551, and the city's first printing press arrived in 1584.
The 17th Century held a mixed bag for Lima; growth and expansion tempered with total destruction following a pair of earthquakes in 1687 - one on October 20th and another on December 2nd. Still, the notion of a city is often stronger than its component parts, and so those residents who survived remained and rebuilt it. Ironically, the quake struck just as the Lima City Walls had been completed after three years of construction ordered by the city's viceroy Melchor de Navarra y Rocafull to protect the city and its residents from such external threats as pirates. The city was again destroyed by earthquake in October 1746, following which it was again extensively rebuilt by the then-viceroy José Antonio Manso de Velasco - who commissioned the foremost bullring in the country, the Plaza de toros de Acho of 1766, which is still extant.
The Bourbón Reforms - implemented by Charles III to strengthen Spain by more efficiently harvesting resources from their New World holdings - probably hurt more than they helped, and may have even hastened the end of the colonial era in South America. The transfer of authority of the mineral rich area of Upper Peru to the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata may have made economic sense, but was a deep humiliation to what was by then Peru's growing sense of nationhood. Although a royalist stronghold in the 1810s under viceroy José Fernando de Abascal y Sousa, as anti-colonial revolutions swept across Central and South America, during the Peruvian War of Independence of 1821-4, the city played an ambivalent role. By the time of the Battle of Ayacucho, though, while the country had gained its independence the city itself was just about defunct.
Owing mainly to blockades of the city by José de San Martín in the 1820s, after gaining its independence the city's economy was stagnant, although by the time of the War of the Pacific in 1879 the city was important enough - being the capital and all - to have been invaded and occupied by Chilean troops following Peru's lacklustre performance at the battles of San Juan and Miraflores. Oddly enough, it was massive exports of guano which returned the city to some semblance of prosperity.
In May 1940 Lima's old nemesis the earthquake made a return visit, reducing its many adobe and quincha dwellings to so much rubble; the rebuilding period coincided with an influx of people from the countryside, swelling the city's population, estimated at 600,000 in 1940, to 1.9M by 1960 and 4.8M by 1980. In 1993 the population stood at 6.4 million and is by now nearing 8.5 million, many of whom are housed in shanty towns called pueblos jóvenes. In fact, it is this image of so-called modern Peru which all too frequently pervades the North American media, but judging by the number of hits and the variety of search terms used, the truth is far more complex than that. Still, one-third of all Peruvians live in the capital; I imagine if 10 million people lived in Ottawa, things would be much the same there.
Nevertheless, following brutal dictatorships in the 1950s and 1960s through tremendous political upheaval throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Lima seems to have acquired some semblance of tranquility, and the city offers much to the sightseeing tourist, from the colonial architecture of the Monastery of San Francisco, the Cathedral of Lima and the Torre Tagle Palace to the more modern Museum of the Nation, all of which and more can be found behind the picture at the top of the post.
*Later upgraded to an archdiocese in 1546.
share on: facebook