Friday, 7 August 2009

La Casa de Las Columnas

Living in a historical house in Lima AD 2009

When you walk from the Plaza de Armas in Lima along the Jr. Conde de Superunda past the church and convent of Santo Domingo you pass the magnificent blue Casa de Osambela. Next to it is an entrance, number 316. Welcome to the Casa de Las Columnas. You enter a different world. It could be the nineteenth century, or earlier. It smells of humidity and urine. Laundry is drying everywhere. Women are busy doing the laundry by hand in the courtyard. This place was from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century the noviciado of the convent of Santo Domingo. Boys were learning to become monks.

Only 20 persons have a regular job
Now 61 families live here in 53 rooms, divided over two patios. In total around 250 people have their home here, of which 50 children. Only 20 persons have a regular job. A room is on average 30 square meters. They don´t have running water or toilets. Around the first patio live 43 families. They have to share two taps and one toilet. Two other toilets have broken down and have not been repaired. Only seven families use the toilet, the others use bedpans. The second patio has a bit better services for its 18 families; three taps and four toilets. Since the beginning of the nineties people don´t pay rent anymore, tells Iván del Castillo Vélasquez. He moved here in 1984 when he was 17 years old from Cabana in Ancash. To study in Lima to become a teacher. Now he teaches Spanish at a secondary school and he is secretary of the Asociación de Vivienda Las Columnas. But he is moving out in December. Finally he is eligible for Techo Propio. He has a wife and a son of five. ´This is no place for a child to grow up´, he says. Many people are drunk and play loud music at night. As they don´t pay rent, they also don´t care for the place. The way of living here is not a good example at all.

Part of the convent Santo Domingo
On August 5th Iván initiated a talk about the history of the house for the inhabitants. So they would know where they´re living. Around 30 people attended. The talk was organized together with the NGO Centro de Investigación, Documentación y Asesoria Poblacional (CIDAP) as part of their campaign Centro Histórico de Lima: centro vivo. First Deolinda Villa Esteves of the sub dirección de Investigación Histórica of the Dirección de Patrimonio Histórico Colonial y Republicano of the Instituto Nacional de Cultura (INC) explained the history of the building. Originally it was part of the convent of Santo Domingo. This convent occupied since 1541 two whole blocks, with the church and tower on the lower right corner, the noviciado on the lower left corner and the refectorio on the upper left corner. In the book Tesoros Verdaderos de las Indias from 1681/83 the convent is described in detail.

Dwellings for people with little means
The great earthquake of 1746 destroyed most of Lima, including the church and convent of Santo Domingo. They were rebuilt in the second half of the eighteenth century. To raise funds the Dominicans sold parts of their block; among others the refectorio and the right part of the noviciado. The latter was sold to Martín de Osambela, who built his mansion here. The remaining part of the noviciado became refectorio. It was used as such in 1810. In the period 1830-1850 it was used as a police station. The present entrance was constructed in that time. As of 1852 a certain Nicolás Rodrigo started to buy and rent these parts from the Dominicans. He constructed dwellings here for people with little means and rented them out. These constructions are what we can see today. They are not very good; no direct light and bad ventilation.
I could find two references to a Nicolás Rodrigo. In El Comercio of November 14th 1840 he announced together with Domingo Elías the opening of the colegio Nuestra Señora de Guadelupe in the old building of the Estanco de Tabaco. Rodrigo and Elías had received this building from president Gamarra. And in the 1850-ies Nicolás Rodrigo was a partner of Manuel Pardo in his guano export business.

The original floor is still there
After the historical context of the building architect Antonio Coello of the Escuela Taller de Lima talked about his findings. Main objectives were to see how findings here would correspond with those in the convent and to see if a dating could be made for pottery from colonial times. The arches are eighteenth century as part of the rebuilding of the convent. Several excavations showed that de original red tiled floor of the sixteenth century convent is still present 1.20 meters below the present floor. Several seventeenth century tinajas, big earthenware jugs, were found as well in the soil, for keeping of oil and other liquids, and remains of pottery from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century.

La Casa de Las Columnas should be taken care of better. It would be great if the occupants of the house could do this in combination with professionals. Can 150 years of neglect be counteracted quick enough?

1 comment:

  1. As a peruvian living in other country I feel bad that the goverment do not care about historical buildings.