Historical Buildings in Lima
Lima, nowadays a bustling, little bit chaotic and quite noisy city, has a rich historical and architectural heritage. When Francisco Pizarro founded Lima in 1535 on an existing indigenous settlement he had clear orders by the Spanish crown on how to create and organize the city. The design and layout of Limas historical Center was based on the model of cities in Spain, especially Seville. The same applies for the first Colonial houses in Lima. Initially the first mansions were all built block (Spanish = Cuadra) by block around Plaza Mayor in a chessboard style and with specific rules as determined by Francisco Pizarro (exact length of one block = 400 feet / 122 m and a precise width of the streets = 40 foot / 12.2 m). During the Colonial times the Spanish immigrants developed their own unique architectural style. The origins of this style were very similar to the typical Arabic-Moorish architecture in Spain. The settlers had to adapt to the local environment like earthquakes or the inferiority of building materials and so soon a very characteristic architectural style developed.
Good examples of unique architectural factors are the famous balconies of Lima; most of them closed balconies with jalousies, of Moorish origin but with an absolutely distinctive Lima style and character. Lima known as the "City of Kings" and "City of Gardens" was soon famous for these extraordinary balconies and known as well as "City of Balconies". Lima had so many balconies that nobody ever thought they would be some day something special. The main reason for building closed balconies was that the first immigrants thought it would be inappropriate for their women to be seen from a window, an open balcony or when going outside. Therefore closed balconies like in North-Africa were built, allowing the high society ladies of Lima to see what was going on outside but without being seen.
Don't let yourself be scared off by good meant warnings that Limas City Center is very unsafe and dangerous. It's true that you should take precautions like in every capital city, don't show off (like carrying your 2000 US$ Digital camera on the belly), carry lots of cash, wear your Rolex (by the way you can buy pretty good replicas here...) and try to blend in, than you should be fine. Since the 1990s the Municipality of Lima "cleaned" the City Center in an effort to remove lots of persistent street vendors (unfortunately there a still quite a few left) and dodgy figures. Programs initiated by the government encouraged the citizens to be proud of their city, renovate buildings and "shape up" streets and parks in an attempt to recuperate the city's cultural heritage and of course to promote tourism.
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In 1535 Francisco Pizarro founded Lima and built his "palace" exactly on the same place where the main authority of the Rimac Valley at this time, the curazco Taulichusco, had his residence. When Lima was granted the title of Viceroyalty the "Casa de Pizarro" became the first Spanish Viceroys Palace in Lima.
Another historical and architectural monument surrounding Lima's Plaza de Armas, is the Municipal Palace. The original building dates back to the early 17th century, but was destroyed mainly by earthquakes and fires several times. The current building, still on the same place as Lima's first town hall, was inaugurated in 1944.
The Archbishop Palace is situated directly at Plaza de Armas, Lima's main square, next to the Cathedral. This important place in the middle of town reflects the immense power the church had in Colonial Lima. Constructions for the Cathedral of Lima and the original "Palacio Arzobispal" started shortly after the foundation of Lima in 1535.
The Central Post Office was opened in 1897 and was responsible for all national and international correspondence. When technology developed and the telegraph was introduced to Peru it became the main relay station for all transmissions. At the beginning of the 20th century the building was completely remodeled to fit into the new European style Lima and received the first telephone switchboard in Peru.
Only little is known about this house standing at the north-east corner of the Plaza Mayor. It dates back to the end of the 17th century and is one of the oldest mansions in Lima. It got its name "Casa del Oidor" (oidor means in Spanish something like magistrate or "the one that hears / listens") because it is speculated that in Colonial times this decent looking but historical valuable building housed the magistrates from the highest courts.
The "Casa de Aliaga" is the oldest Colonial mansion in Lima, maybe even in whole South America. The house has been owned and lived in by the Aliaga family and their descendants since Franzisco Pizarro granted the land to Jerónimo de Aliaga in 1535. Originally there was a pre-Colombian altar on that plot of land owned by "Curaca Tauli Chusco" (the reign of the Rimac valley).
The building was originally Lima's main train station (Estacion de Desamparados - Desamparados Train Station) and opened in 1912. Situated behind the Presidential Palace at the River Rimac it was a symbol of the progress and development of the city in the beginning of the 20th century. At this time the capital of Peru was completely redesigned.
The origin of the "Casa de Pilatos" or "Casa de Esquivel y Jarava" (after their first owners) is still not completely uncovered. On the base of historical documents and writings of the famous Peruvian author Ricardo Palma it is believed that this beautiful house was built in 1590 and therefore is one of the oldest Colonial buildings in Lima. The "Casa de Pilatos" represents a magnificent example of the architectural style of this period.
Considered one of the most magnificent buildings in South America, this unique mansion shows the elegance and grace of the architecture in the early 18th century. It was built in 1730 by José B. Tagle, the Marquis of Torre Tagle and treasurer of the Royal Spanish fleet. His coat of arms is still visible above the door.
This decent 18th century building was nicely restored in the mid-19th century. Worth mentioning is the beautiful carved open balcony. Inside the Casa L'Eau Vive you find an excellent restaurant, run by a society of nuns as charity project. The atmosphere in this nice Colonial house is great, the food amazing and the prices reasonable. A place absolutely worth a visit.
Just across the street from Palacio Torre Tagle is an impressive 18th century mansion, the "Casa de Rada" or "Casa de Goyeneche". The house is one of the first buildings that shows a distinct French influence, typical for buildings in the mid 18th century in Lima. Characteristic for Lima are the beautiful preserved balconies and distinctive doors.
In the early 18th century Don Jorge Negreiros, the chief magistrate of Arica, settled in Lima and built his house just two blocks from Plaza Mayor. It was once restored in Republican times, then in 1970 and again in 1997 by the Municipality of Lima which declared this remarkable mansion a "Historical Patrimony of the City of Lima". Absolutely beautiful are the two well preserved wooden balconies.
The Casa de Osambela or known as well as Casa de Oquendo is one of the most traditional buildings that combines the cultural and historical patrimony of Lima. This impressive mansion was built by Martin de Osambela, a merchant, banker and ship-owner as his family residence at the beginning of the 19th century (the construction took nearly four years and was finished in 1807).
This beautiful mansion was built in 1760 on behalf of the Riva Agüero family. It was then donated by the last descendant Don José de la Riva Agüero to the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. Inside this typical Colonial mansion the Institute Riva-Agüero holds an extensive historical archive and a rich library. The building also houses the Museo de Artes y Tradiciones Populares.
Right in the middle of the historic center you find another beautiful preserved Colonial mansion: The Casa Miguel Grau. Built in the last years of the 17th century the house was occupied by Don Gaspar Osma y Tricio, later by the Peruvian writer José de la Riva Agüero y Osma. In 1867 the famous Peruvian Navy Admiral Miguel Grau lived here until his death during the Pacific War in 1879. Today the old mansion house the Miguel Grau Museum.
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