Lima is at the brink of another revival in its existence, which according to archaeologists goes back thousands of years. Driven by the fastest growing economy in the continent, a booming gastronomic scene and exciting entrepreneurial and cultural activities, the city seems to be rising from the ashes of some decades of neglect and poverty.
New five star hotels are moving in. The Westin Libertador Hotel, the highest building of Lima, is almost ready. Inkaterra is rumoured to start its first hotel in the Peruvian capital. Intercontinental is supposed to get a brand new hotel in Larcomar. And in the historic centre of Lima, Spanish Arte Express is adapting two of its acquisitions to become a boutique hotel. The museum scene is getting ready for an exciting time with the recently reopened MALI, Museo Larco that was officially reopened last night and a new Museo Metropolitano that will open in October. It feels like Lima is taking its place among the cities that count in the continent.
And, different from all the other cities in the Americas, (metropolitan) Lima can say it has been here for perhaps 4,000 years. It has had its ups and downs. Much more than any other city, the ups have been very up, being the second most important place in the Inca empire and the capital of the whole of Spanish South America, and the downs really down with El Niño, earthquakes and terrorism.
Four hours north of Lima lays Caral, the oldest city of the Americas and dating from the same time as the pyramids of Egypt. Around 4,000 years ago the big so called temples in U were built in this region. Huacoy in Carabayllo, Garagay in San Martin de Porres and La Florida in Rimac are examples of these huge constructions with central plazas of around 125,000 square meters. The people who built these temples must have had an advanced social structure, but disappeared.
Next came around 200 BC the Lima Culture. They built the huaca Pucllana in Miraflores, Huallamarca in San Isidro, the first temples of Maranga in San Miguel. And not only that, they were also responsible for digging the canals to irrigate the valley and turn it into agricultural land. One of these canals, rio Surco, still exists. And until the 1960-ies and 70-ies the area around Lima still was agricultural.
The Lima culture was contemporary to the Moche in the north and Nazca in the south and disappeared around 600 AD. Apparently due to a mega El Niño phenomenon. The area was conquered by the Andean Huari, who buried their dead in temples of the Lima culture, as Huari mummies were discovered in the huaca Pucllana.
A third epoch started with the Ichma. Unlike the Lima culture, who used little adobe bricks, they constructed their temples and administrative centres with huge adobe blocks: Mateo Salado near the Plaza de la Bandera, Mangomarca and Campoy in San Juan de Lurigancho, the more than 50 temples in Maranga in San Miguel, Cajamarquilla in Lurigancho and of course Pachacamac a bit to the south of Lima. Pachacamac was home to an important god that protected the population against earthquakes.
When the Incas conquered these lands around 1470 AD Pachacamac became the second most important place in the empire and the most important oracle. Historian Maria Rostworowski argues that Lima’s patron saint El Señor de los Milagros is none else than Pachacamac in disguise.
When the Spanish arrived another deciding period in Lima’s history started. Out of Lima the colonial rulers administered their South American possessions. Palaces, churches and official buildings lined the streets of a new baroque Lima. In the green lands around the city the huacas where silent reminders of the past, where the haciendas of the Spanish masters became the new agricultural centres. Here the Indian population worked, together with slaves from Africa.
Escaped slaves formed their own settlements or ‘palenques’ in Carabayllo, Chosica and San Juan de Lurigancho. But they lived as well in the popular districts of Barrios Altos and Rimac, giving birth to the creole culture, the typical dishes and music of Lima. Surviving major earthquakes in the 17th and 18th century, Lima slowly lost position as parts of the colonial empire started to be administered from other centres as Buenos Aires and Santa Fe de Bogota and in the end broke away from colonial rule.
Unwillingly, Peru was forced into Independence. Lima became a city in decline. When you read Flora Tristan’s description of the city in the 1830-ies she could be talking about parts of downtown Lima today. The discovery of the use of guano from the islands near Paracas as natural fertilizer gave a new impulse to Lima, but the war with Chile put a quick stop to that.
Only in the 1920-ies, after a hundred years of independence, Lima experienced a new boom, when the opening of the Panama Canal made trade with Europe and the US much easier. Plaza San Martin was built as was a new financial centre. The Second World War was also good for the Peruvian economy and for Lima, which said goodbye to its romantic neo-colonial architecture and began building contemporary architecture, wanting to play a role in the world.
But that was too soon. First the legacy of colonialism had to be removed. The semi slavery on the haciendas was finally abolished, leading to an enormous influx of immigrants, even more when terrorism rose in the 1980-ies. Lima was not able to handle this and the historical centre collapsed, the middle and upper classes took refuge behind walls and gates in safe suburbs and the immigrants flooded the city. Now Lima is a metropolis with 9 million inhabitants. Still struggling with the consequences of the past, but moving to a very interesting future. The history, the food and the culture certainly make Lima one of the most exciting places to be in at the moment.