Historical Earthquakes in Peru

Historical Earthquakes in Peru

We only have proven records of earthquakes in Peru since the arrival of the Spaniards in the region. Even so we know that already the first Peruvian cultures had to cope with the seismic activities. Earthquake after earthquake, century after century it seems these ancient cultures learned how to keep their constructions and belongings safe. Many archaeologists for example believe that the special trapezoid character of the Inca architecture was one of the precautions against such natural destruction.

In contrast the Spanish conquerors weren't prepared for earthquakes at all. They built the new capital Lima based on the model of Spanish cities using the same architecture and methods like back home. Considering the location of Lima in a seismic area this couldn't work. During the first 100 years after Lima's foundation many buildings were badly damaged or destroyed completely by earthquakes due to inadequate construction methods. A good example is the Cathedral of Lima at the Plaza de Armas in the historic city center. During the construction heavy earthquakes damaged it badly and the church had to be repaired over and over again. Finally in 1645 the work was accomplished. But again reiterated earthquakes, especially the one from 1746, harmed the church and therefore asked for a lighter construction. Consequently the Cathedral of Lima was altered once again and repaired.

Unfortunately other original buildings of the first settlers weren't so lucky to be repaired over and over again. These beautiful and characteristic mansions were destroyed and never rebuilt. That's probably one of the reasons why today we only find a handful of the first colonial houses like the Casa de Aliaga or the Casa de Pilatos in Lima. But the Spaniards learned as well and tried to adjust their building method to the given conditions. Therefore some colonial buildings from the 17th and 18th century survived earthquakes and other obstacles giving us today the charm and uniqueness of the historical city center.

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16th Century Earthquakes

In 1533 - Already two years before the foundation of Lima Hernando Pizarro, the brother of the founder of Lima, was taken aback by a heavy earthquake while searching for a suitable terrain for the new capital. A warning sign which the conquerors ignored! 1555 the city experienced an even stronger earthquake. Many buildings were badly damaged, some citizens hurt and the first fatalities were reported.

17th Century Earthquakes

On the 24th of November 1604 a strong sea-quake with a magnitude of approximately 8.5 to 9.0 hit the southern Peruvian coast destroying Arica (back then Peru, today Chile) completely and causing severe damage in the whole area. The quake was felt even in Arequipa that just a few years before lay in ashes due to heavy earthquakes caused by the eruption of the Huaynaputina. A tsunami devastated around 1000 km of coast line.

18th Century Earthquakes

On the 28th of October 1746 a massive earthquake, the largest to strike central Peru in recorded history, ravaged Lima, by now a bustling city with 50,000 citizens. This magnitude 8.6 quake completely destroyed Lima and everything else along the central Peruvian coast. According to reports half an hour after the quake, a large tsunami struck the shore causing great damage at all Peruvian ports. Callao was completely destroyed.

19th Century Earthquakes

In 1868 one of the strongest earthquakes (9.0) since the colonization hit the southern coast of Peru destroying almost completely Arica and Tacna as well as causing sever damages in Moquegua, Molendo, Ilo, Torata and Arequipa. Even Lima experienced strong shocks for around 5 minutes. Around 40,000 fatalities were reported. The tsunamis produced by the tremor with waves up to 16 m demolished the port city of Pisco.

20th Century Earthquakes

1940 the city of Lima and the nearby areas were shaken by another destructive earthquake at 11.35 am. The magnitude 8.2 earthquake was so intense that it was felt throughout Peru and as far as Guayaquil, Ecuador in the north and Arica, Chile in the south. The temblor caused great destruction especially in Lima's city center, in Callao, Chorrillos, Barranco, Chancay and Lurin. Once again the Cathedral of Lima suffered badly.

21st Century Earthquakes

In 2007 two powerful earthquakes shock the area south of Lima at 06.40 pm and 06.42 pm. The epicenters were located 150 km south of Lima. The magnitude 7.9 and 8.2 tremors overlapped and lasted together nearly two minutes. The Ica region was hit hardest, with 70% of the city of Pisco leveled to the ground, the city of Ica, Chincha and villages in the area badly damaged. Churches, public buildings and residences collapsed.

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