5 tips for Lima

Panoramic view of Lima from Miraflores.
©christian vinces/stock.adobe.com

When you think of South American metropolises, Peru may not be the first place that comes to mind, but the Peruvian capital Lima has more to offer than you might initially expect and is often underestimated.

Of course, the first impression is usually a sobering one. However, this is mainly due to the fact that the international airport is located in an industrial district away from the center. Lima’s beauty is only revealed at second glance.

Namely, when you stand on the magnificent Plaza de Armas and marvel at the former stately homes, have a chat with Lima’s friendly inhabitants or enjoy a unique fresh ceviche with a view of the sea. Then, however, you lose your heart forever to Lima.

Tip 1: Lima Cathedral

In the historic center of Lima, in the Plaza Mayor (Plaza de Armas), lies the Cathedral. It is one of the most beautiful sights of Lima and the first testimony of Spanish colonization. The squat building, together with the Archbishop’s Palace, occupies an entire side of the main square.

Lima Cathedral
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Since the cathedral was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt by earthquakes over the centuries, different architectural styles are visible today. However, destruction was not the only reason for repeated construction. The church was simply not stately enough as a cathedral in its first form. The first version was a rather simple structure made of adobe bricks.

Only about thirty years after its foundation, Seville Cathedral was to serve as a model for a new building. Today, the façade of Lima Cathedral is of the typical Baroque colonial style, while the two towers were renewed in the neoclassical style. After the earthquake of 1746, much of the Baroque decoration inside was removed during the renovation in the neoclassical style. The cathedral has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991.

In its current form, Lima Cathedral has a nave with two aisles, each lined with seven chapels. The altars located in the chapels date from different periods.

In the chapels there are paintings and statues, for example of the Holy Family. In the old sacristy and adjoining rooms there is the Museum of Religious Art.

Worth seeing is the completely gilded main altar, as well as the carved and richly decorated choir stalls in rococo style. The church is the burial place of various personalities who played a role in Peru’s history since colonization.

Probably the biggest attraction of Lima Cathedral is the tomb of Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador who conquered the Inca Empire. On January 18, 1535, he founded the city of Lima on the site of an indigenous settlement.

Tip 2: Real Felipe Fortress

Lima was founded in 1535 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. The city was located in its original form, today’s old town, a few kilometers from the coast in the fertile Limac Valley. Pizarro founded the port city of Callao two years later.

Real Felipe Fortress in Callao near Lima
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From there, the treasures stolen from the Incas, as well as gold and silver that continued to be mined, were taken away and transported to Panama. There they were transported overland to the Atlantic and shipped to Europe. Goods were also brought over the Andes to Callao from Argentina and Bolivia. For Callao was the most important port on the Pacific coast of South America.

But it has always been the case that wealth attracted enemies, in this case pirates. They did not shy away from long distances: even the Englishman Francis Drake set out for Callao to take the Spaniards’ treasures. For this reason, a wall was built around the city as late as the 16th century. About 200 years later, a tsunami destroyed the wall and the city. Since the place was so important, the city was rebuilt and it was decided to build a more steadfast structure against the enemies.

The Fortaleza del Real Felipe was the largest fortress built by the Spanish in the Americas. It was named after the then recently deceased King Filipe V.

The fortress has the shape of a pentagon. At each corner there is a bastion. The bastions were each given a name: El Rey, La Reina, San Felipe, San Carlos and San José. The two located by the sea, El Rey and La Reina (King and Queen) are the strongest and each has a tower. The tower of the King’s bastion was also intended to serve as a last retreat in case the fortress was conquered, and was therefore protected by a moat and a drawbridge. The stones used for its construction came from the island of San Lorenzo, opposite the headland.

Tip 3: Sanctuary and Monastery of Las Nazarenas

The history of Las Nazarenas Monastery begins with several earthquakes that destroyed large parts of the city. The death toll was great, as was the material loss. Tirelessly, the inhabitants rebuilt their town. But no matter what happened, an image representing Christ always remained intact. It had been painted on a wall by an Angolan slave and miraculously resisted all destruction. It was called Señor de los Milagros, Lord of Miracles. It was decided to honor these miracles and build a church.

Sanctuary and Monastery of Las Nazarenas in Lima
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At the beginning of the 18th century, the Nazarene Sisters moved into a building next to the church. One church became a second, because the first building was also destroyed in a subsequent earthquake, but not the altarpiece. In 1771 the building that can be seen today was built: a magnificent church in rococo style.

Every year on October 18, a procession is held in honor of the Señor de los Milagros, who was named the patron saint of Lima. This event lasts 24 hours and attracts thousands of believers. However, a large crowd of pilgrims from all over the world also visit the church to ask the Lord of Miracles for protection and recovery. Since there was not enough space for the many faithful, a chapel was added in the 1980s.

The rococo facade of the Las Nazarenas church is all white. The interior, on the other hand, delights with the color combination of green and pink. The capitals of the columns and the altars are decorated with gold, the altar, which is a work of art in itself with its gilded figures and columns, is adorned with the famous mural of the crucified Christ.

The Santuario Nacional y Monasterio de Las Nazarenas, which is the full name of the church and monastery, is a must-see building during your visit to Lima.

Tip 4: Basilica and Convent of Nuestra Señora de la Merced

The Church of Mercy is located in the historic center of Lima, about midway between the two main squares, Plaza Mayor and Plaza de San Martin. It was founded in 1535 along with the adjacent monastery, the same year as Lima itself. However, the land on which the church stands already belonged to the Mercedarian Order before the city was founded, which settled there a year before the arrival of the city’s founder, Francisco Pizarro, to proselytize among the defeated indigenous population.

Church of Mercy is located in the historic center of Lima
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The Basilica Nuestra Señora de la Merced, or Mercy Church, stands on land that belonged to the Mercedarian Order even before Lima was founded. This order had settled in the fertile Rímac Valley to proselytize among the indigenous population. This valley was a strategically important point. On the one hand, there were already settlements in the fertile plain of the Rímac, and on the other hand, it was relatively easy to get there by ship. The missionaries did not have to take the arduous route across the Andes. Today, the church stands in the middle of the old town, in a very busy square, surrounded by buildings that were not there in its early days.

Like many buildings in Lima, the Basilica Nuestra Señora de la Merced survived several earthquakes and fires in the nearly 500 years since its construction. In 1591, the façade acquired its current form, which, however, was destroyed several times and reconstructed only in 1939. In this form, a mixture of adobe and brick, it can be seen today.

Tip 5: Archbishop’s Palace of Lima

On the east side of the Plaza Mayor sits one of Lima’s most important buildings – the cathedral. Right next to it, almost grown together with it, is the palace of the archbishop.

The current building of the Archbishop’s Palace dates back to 1924, and the effort to make Lima’s historic center appear architecturally homogeneous can be seen in the construction. This homogeneity is expressed in the fact that the buildings combine several period styles. The reason for this is the earthquakes that have repeatedly struck Lima since its founding. The damaged buildings were subsequently restored in the style of the period.

Archbishop's Palace of Lima
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The facade of the Bishop’s Palace, unlike that of the Cathedral, is made of granite. Thus, it clearly stands out from the latter. The massive granite wall is pierced by various stylistic elements. Two rows of windows with ornate surrounds are located above and below wooden balconies, which were typical of 17th and 18th century architecture.

The balconies at the archbishop’s palace with their ornate carvings and filigree window grilles are among the most worth seeing in Lima. They are flanked by striking baroque portals that rise above the entrances. So you can see how, at the Archbishop’s Palace, different elements make the building fit perfectly into its surroundings.