Exploring Lima’s Architectural Legacy

  A Guest Post by Roselle George

Our group of six just spent 17 days in Peru, fulfilling a lifelong dream of mine. I majored in Latin American Studies with extensive work in South American architecture and archaeology before going to graduate school to become an urban planner. Our group included two retired urban planners/designers, our husbands, and two friends from Mexico.

One of the few restored buildings, dated 1865, now a photographer's studio

I was put in touch with a Dutch architectural journalist, Ronald Elward, who moved to Lima several years ago and now leads architectural walking tours. In addition to studying Peruvian architecture, he is writing a series of articles for the Lima newspaper about the current lives of Incan royalty survivors. He is extremely knowledgeable and with him we saw a very different view of Lima than most tourists.

The first day we walked from 10 to 4 with just a short lunch break in old downtown Lima. During the 1980s the upper and middle classes fled the downtown, thus there are many beautiful old buildings in ruins with a few in reuse. Renovations are just beginning. Even the museums and government departments fled to the outskirts. The remaining population downtown is primarily poor; the greater Lima area has a population of 9 million! Next add in the strange climate – it hasn’t rained in Lima since 1973! But it is always misty and foggy and cool even though we are near the equator. This results in very dirty air, buildings, streets – no rain to clean it. Anything growing must be watered and they water it all daily – often from trucks. There are rivers so they have water. But it is a desert.

Nicely preserved Art Deco building in central Lima

Few buildings downtown have survived since Colonial times. A large earthquake in 1746 and a war with Chile destroyed much of central Lima. The Plaza de Armas was rebuilt and many of the most beautiful buildings date from the late 1800s. The balconies on the city buildings reflect the Moorish influence of the early buildings – a place where women could watch the street life but not be seen. The San Francisco Church and Monastery survived the earlier earthquakes but suffered severe damage in 1970. It is an excellent example of Spanish Baroque style. An economic boom coincided with the Art Deco and Art Nouveau Styles, reflected in a photographer’s studio from the early 1900s and a building now housing McDonald’s.

We walked for hours around beautiful decaying buildings in crowds of people – and horrible traffic. Then we returned to our nice hotel in a lovely part of town, Miraflores, that is very Spanish and walked to a restaurant with fabulous food, part of the Gaston Acuria group.

The next morning we fought traffic, demonstrations and confusion to go to la Mistura, a big food festival (with 600,000 people expected, we went early before it got too crazy). Then we went way out in the suburbs to the National Museum, built in the Brutalist style. In the evening we strolled to the beach and had seafood.

deserted mansion in Barancas

A deserted mansion in Baranco. The facade is pretty but the building is bad shape and there are no plans for reuse.

Friday we met our Dutchman for another walking tour this time through Baranco, built as a summer retreat in the 1800s for the wealthy, artists, and writers. Very few of the buildings have been restored or torn down so it was lovely and quaint. Since it still attracts artists, there was very interesting street art as well as creative paint jobs on the houses. Several lovely old mansions are deserted, waiting for restoration and reuse if possible. We then explored more of the city’s culinary heritage, taking a food tour back in the heart of Lima, sampling the fare at four local restaurants.

Miraflores also had a lot to offer; we spent quite a bit of time there strolling around looking at the buildings and beach.

Lima Central Square

Lima Central Square and Plaza de Armas

Roselle George recently retired after 20 years of urban planning for local governments in the Washington, DC area. She lives in Potomac, Maryland.

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