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History of Lima

Lima is one of Latin America’s most historic cities. Established by Francisco Pizarro on January 18, 1535 as the City of Kings, it was home to 40 viceroys (no kings!) during the colonial era. The central square (Plaza de Armas) was laid out by Pizarro himself, with the cathedral on one side, the Cabildo (town hall) on another side and Pizarro’s own house on another. Pizarro lived in what is now known as the Palacio de Gobierno until his death in 1541; he was murdered in the street by rival conquistadores. His remains are in the cathedral.

After Pizarro, Lima continued to be very important historically. Lima became the seat of one of only two Spanish viceroyalties in the New World; the other was in Mexico City. (A third was added in Buenos Aires later.) As such, it was the political and spiritual hub of Spanish South America for centuries, ruling the part of the Spanish Empire that stretched from Quito to Chile. It also was a seat for the Holy Inquisition in the New World. The discovery of rich mineral deposits in parts of Bolivia and Peru meant that a great deal of wealth flowed into Lima, and some of the old colonial homes still reflect this.

In 1746, a devastating earthquake hit the city, killing thousands and toppling many buildings. The city was rebuilt, although a great deal of historic architecture was lost. Lima was once more racked by a strong earthquake in 1940. In 1988, Lima’s Centro Histórico was named a UNESCO World Heritage site; one of its acclaimed architectural features is the city’s colonial balconies. By some estimates, there are still more than 1,600 balconies that have survived since Lima’s earliest days.

Over the centuries, Lima grew, incorporating San Borja, San Isidro, Miraflores, Barranco, Pueblo Libre and other cities into its ranks. During the 1970s and 1980s, the city swelled with refugees fleeing the terrorism that racked the countryside. In the late 1990s, local efforts were made to significantly clean up downtown Lima. Street vendors were kicked out, more police were sent in on patrol and street crime diminished significantly.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Lima: Traveling with Kids in Lima and Lima Highlights.

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
16 Jul 2012

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