Lima, originally named
La Ciudad de Los Reyes
, the City of Kings, in honour of the Magi, was founded on Epiphany in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro. From then until the independence of the South American republics in the early 19th century, it was the chief city of Spanish South America. The name Lima, a corruption of the Quechua name
(speaker), was not adopted until the end of the 16th century.

At the time of the Conquest, Lima was already an important commercial centre. It continued to grow throughout the colonial years and by 1610 the population was 26,000, of whom 10,000 were Spaniards. This was the time of greatest prosperity. The commercial centre of the city was just off the Plaza de Armas in the Calle de Mercaderes (first block of Jirón de la Unión) and was full of merchandise imported from Spain, Mexico and China. All the goods from the mother country arrived at the port of Callao, from where they were distributed all over Peru and as far away as Argentina.

At this time South American trade with Spain was controlled by a monopoly of Sevillian merchants and their Limeño counterparts who profited considerably. It wasn't until the end of the 18th century that free trade was established between Spain and her colonies, allowing Peru to enjoy a period of relative wealth. Much of this wealth was reinvested in the country, particularly in Lima where educational establishments benefited most of all.

After Francis Drake made a surprise attack on Callao on the night of 13 February 1579, plans were made to strengthen the city's defences against the threat from English pirates. However, an argument raged during the following century between Spain and Lima as to what form the defences should take and who should pay. Finally, it was agreed to encircle the city with a wall, which was completed by 1687.

Life for the white descendants of the Spaniards was good, although
(Spaniards born in the colonies) were not allowed to hold public office in Peru. The indigenous people and those of mixed blood were treated as lesser citizens. Their movements were strictly controlled. They weren't allowed to live in the city centre; only in areas allocated to them, referred to as

There were few cities in the Old World that could rival Lima's wealth and luxury, until the terrible earthquake of 1746. The city's notable elegance was instantly reduced to dust. Only 20 of the 3000 houses were left standing and an estimated 4000 people were killed. Despite the efforts of the Viceroy, José Manso de Velasco, to rebuild the city, Lima never recovered her former glory. During the 19th century man-made disasters rather than natural ones wreaked havoc on the capital and its people. The population dropped from 87,000 in 1810 to 53,000 in 1842, after the wars of Independence, and the city suffered considerable material damage during the Chilean occupation that followed the War of the Pacific.

Lima was built on both banks of the Rímac river. The walls erected at the end of the 17th century surrounded three sides while the Rímac bordered the fourth. By the time the North American railway engineer, Henry Meiggs, was contracted to demolish the city walls in 1870, Lima had already begun to spread outside the original limits. Meiggs reneged on his contract by leaving much of the wall intact in the poor area around Cercado, where the ruins can still be seen.

By the beginning of the 20th century the population had risen to 140,000 and the movement of people to the coastal areas meant that unskilled cheap labour was readily available for the increasing numbers of factories. Around this time, major improvements were made to the city's infrastructure in the shape of paved streets, modern sanitation, new markets and plazas. For the entertainment of the middle classes, a modern racetrack was opened in what is now the Campo de Marte, as well as the municipal theatre, the Teatro Segura. At the same time, the incumbent president, José Pardo, dramatically increased government expenditure on education, particularly in Lima.

Large-scale municipal improvements continued under the dictatorship of Augusto Leguía and the presidency of Oscar Benavides, who focused on education for the masses, housing facilities for workers and low-cost restaurants in the slum areas that were growing up around Lima.

Lima, a city of some 8.2 million people, continues to struggle to live up to its former reputation as the City of Kings. This has involved drastic changes in the last few years. The commercial heart has moved away from the centre of town and has taken root in more upmarket districts such as Miraflores and San Isidro. After suffering serious decline, the old centre is benefiting from great efforts to clean it up and is re-establishing itself as a place to visit. The city can, however, be seriously affected by smog at certain times of the year. It is also surrounded by
pueblos jóvenes
, or shanty settlements of squatters who have migrated from all parts of Peru looking for work and education .

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
Products in this Region

Peru, Bolivia & Ecuador Handbook

Tracing the range of the Andes - the geographical and cultural spine of South America - Peru,...

Peru Handbook

Peru is home to more archaeological sites than any other country in South America. However, with...

South American Handbook 2016

South America is epic. Home to the world's highest waterfall, the longest mountain range and the...
PDF Downloads

  No PDFs currently available

Digital Products

Available NOW!