We showed up a little wilted from the desert heat, but Lima was a welcome sight to us. Although a large cloud covers the city during the month of May, it was still warm enough to walk around in short sleeves. We had been told by multiple people that Lima is only good for a day or two, and that city center and the neighborhood Miraflores are fun and safe, but the rest of the city is a little sketchy. While I think “sketchy” is a little extreme, it is certainly true that downtown and Miraflores are the nicest parts of the 8.4 million-peopled city.
After we checked into our hostel and realized we would be up most of the night due to very loud Israelis, we explored parts of Miraflores in the evening. We just about fell on the ground when we saw a Chili’s and Starbucks three blocks from our hostel. Poor Sarah Ann, who has just left the States, had to put up with Jordan and I making plans to eat as much American food as we could in the two days we were there. We also were able to see Age of Adeline and the next day Pitch Perfect 2. After watching the first movie, Sarah Ann suggested we walk through the nearby park, Parque Central de Miraflores, which we have renamed The Cat Park.
You know how you go into some parks and there are pigeons everywhere, looking for crumbs? Well here it was cats. Neither of us had seen so many cats in one place in our lives–in a fifteen square foot area would be five or six cats, and it was a large park. Sarah Ann and I had lots of fun petting kittens and Jordan succumbed to dropping a few crumbs for the purring cats.
We really didn’t sleep that much that night because a bunch of other hostelers smoked outside our dorm and made lots of noise past midnight. The next morning, our first full day in Lima, we embarked upon the Lonely Planet blue line tour detailed in their book. We don’t own a guidebook, but we crossed paths with people that do and let us take a photo of the route.
Sarah Ann in front of the presidential palace on Plaza de Armas.
Lima was founded in 1535 by a Spaniard named Pizarro. While it wasn’t named that at first, shortly after the construction of the city it was renamed to Lima, which is most likely the Spanish version of the Quechua word Limaq for “talker.” The city is very near an ancient oracle site, hence the pre-Incan name of “talker.” Over the centuries, Lima has been the place of revolts, drama, and political intrigue. There were pirate attacks in the 1680s, then a series of earthquakes into the mid 1700s. The Spanish Inquisition wasn’t just related to Spain, but spread to many of its colonies, including the city of Lima. More on that later. Peru declared its independence from Spain in 1820, and Lima remained the capital of the region. There were a few more earthquakes, the largest being in 1940 and 1973. The 1940 one destroyed most of Lima because it was still built using primarily mud bricks. The 1973 one while destroying some buildings, actually removed layers of plaster and walls from colonial buildings, revealing even older artwork and construction design that is still be restored and studied today.
The Plaza de Bolivar, full of old buildings and fancy hotels, was crowded with a political rally while we were there, calling for a more democratic process that included the people of Peru, not just politicians.
Up the walking/shopping district road a block or two is a beautiful, old church Iglesia de la Merced, built in 1541 and housed the first mass in Lima. We weren’t able to peek inside, but Lonely Planet assured us it was beautiful.
The Plaza de Armas, the absolute center of old Lima, has a beautiful fountain (as you can see) but also has a cluster of beautiful colonial buildings around it. The cathedral of Lima, which is the final resting place of several conquistadors, is behind the fountain. Next door is the archbishop’s palace. It had very Moorish balcony windows (tastefully preserved) for discreet people-watching. We saw many of these in the Middle East, so it was a little bit of a surprise to find them in Latin America. But artistic and architectural culture does blend across geographical boundaries, so it was cool to see the influences so far from the origin of the styles. The plaza also has Palacio del Gobierno, the presidential palace, which was shown above with Sarah Ann in front of it. The plaza was the site of many things in history: execution place, market, bull rides, and more.
The blue line tour took us by the Monastery of San Francisco, which was consecrated in 1673 and completed in 1774. We highly recommend a tour of this place–only seven soles a person and there are English tours! The place is under restoration currently, due to an earthquake in the 1970s which showed older artwork hidden behind walls. But what we did see was beautiful! No photos were allowed inside, unfortunately, but the link I provided shows a couple of the inner courtyard and a few painting I believe.
Their library was worth the seven soles–everything still in its original place, books opened to choral passages for the Franciscan monks, and most things from the 1700s. It houses over 25,000 books, the oldest from the 14th century. It was breathtaking. Our guide passed us along many paintings and murals, explaining the significance along the way. The monastery is still in use, as 48 monks (not all Peruvians) live and work there today. The most interesting (read: creepy) part of the tour was the catacombs. After 45 minutes of looking at gold leaf furniture, 16th century artwork, and such, we descended under the church into the crypts.
This church was the first public cemetery in Lima, so the brick-and-mortar crypt has around 25,000 bodies in it. Although there were family graves (bodies laid on top of each other, up to six deep), there wasn’t enough room. So eventually after the bodies were decomposed they moved the bones to mass graves deeper in the maze of walls and pillars, then reused the family graves. By 1808 a city cemetery had opened, so it was no longer needed, and when the crypts were “rediscovered” after an earthquake in the 1940s, most of the smaller bones had disintegrated already. So we saw a lot of femurs and skulls. I mean, thousands. I did see a few pelvises half buried in one mass grave, though. Most of the graves have been excavated and studied, and the bones put back to rest. A few have been artfully arranged in geometric designs.
With that fascinating/gruesome tour, we ended our walk. The trail leads on into Chinatown, but we had already walked three miles and had to backtrack the same three to get back to our hostel. So we just called it a day and left the other museums for the next day.