La Ciudad de los Reyes (EN)

The Estonian version of this post is here.

If one was to mention the name of Pizarro in a group these days, then it is likely half the people would think of the Incas, a quarter of the Aztecs, and the rest remain puzzled. To most, it is a name perhaps heard in some history lessons even though Francisco Pizarro, the conquistador, left the greatest American civilisation of his day in ruins. In short, his actions absolutely changed the course of South American development.

Nevertheless, that is not the main topic… Francisco Pizarro succeeded in bringing down the Tahuantinsuyu or the Incan Empire after two failed expeditions. Cusco, the Incan capital, was in the hands of the Spanish from 1533. The conquest was essentially over by then, but a new question — that of administering the new territories — arose. The mountains were unsuitable for a people so intricately linked to the rest of their kin by seas the Spanish were, and Pizarro decided to found a new capital. The story of modern Lima, therefore, begins with Pizarro making that choice. The final decision was made in early 1535, and the lucky place was named La Ciudad de los Reyes — ‘The City of the Kings’ .

The local peoples of the Ychsma culture buried the complexes that they used — though which they had not built but rather taken over from the previous occupants — before the Spanish could destroy them.

Pizarro’s activities created him a city that he could inhabit for the next half a dozen years, till his untimely death at the hands of other conquistadors. The internecine squabbles of people who hoped to become rich beyond all measure are likewise not our subject though they could probably inspire a new ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. Likewise, while this is not a morality play, one can draw links between Pizarro’s actions towards the Incas and his own ending. The key here is the city he left behind and what more than four centuries of development have made of it.

For the Spanish towns in South America, the central Plaza de Armas was meant to be the last line of defence — the place for everyone to rally to in case of danger. Lima’s is flanked by relatively uniform colonial architecture including the country’s Palace of Government.

By today, Lima is an impressive megalopolis of 43 barrios and approximately ten million people. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Centre of Lima is in one of the 43, with the entirety of the Old Town being insufficient to break out of one modern district. What survives in El Centro has been determined by human hand and nature in conjunction. The walls that would have protected the city from rebels, pirates, and others make for one of these losses.

Nevertheless, a walk in the centre will introduce one to government buildings, a cathedral, numerous churches and basilicas, as well as plenty of remaining colonial style buildings. Many of the latter have been rebuilt even when the human desire has been to preserve — for nature feels no such requirement and the earthquakes that have visited the city have often claimed victims.

Huaca Huallamarca is another structure that needed uncovering more than rebuilding.

Selected ruins remain from the pre-Hispanic period of Lima in the forms of a city, Pachacamac, complexes at Huaca Pucllana and Huaca Huallamarca, and a spread-out conglomerate of ruins in the municipal zoo in the Parque de las Leyendas. These, however, are often overshadowed by the surrounding structures — much as the above photo shows, the art of building a high-rise leaves the vertical scope of the old pyramids in some shame. Yet, the pyramids are sufficiently clever to resist earthquakes by having been given enough leeway in their structure to vibrate during earthquakes. The ancients really did well with these and the majority are probably three to four times as old as the oldest European structures in the area!

La selva

The Parque de las Leyendas is the main zoo in Lima, and it has been built to mimic the country. The ruins mentioned above certainly help in this with a set of animals by one temple and another herd by another. However, the zoo is also distributed into four districts — la costa, la sierra, la selva, and the internationals. This was an exceedingly clever development in a country that is both relatively poor but also where the majority’s interest in domestic travel is reduced by having an extra 18% IVA slapped onto their bills. Right now, about a third of the country’s population have a viable chance of visiting a replica of Peru’s richness!

There is obviously a lot more to Lima than the few notes mentioned above — Miraflores’ beautiful oceanview cliffs make for another immediate thought. Even this, however, barely gets one started into more than four districts out of the 43 — as Miraflores’ cliffs are in the same barrio as Huaca Pucllana –, and may have taken nearly as many days to visit.

To sum up, there is plenty to see and do in Lima! Even at its best, however, the city only offers a very small glimpse into the Peru beyond — yet, one could spend ages exploring even this small section. The world really is a very funny place…

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