Also known as the Plaza Mayor, the Plaza De Armas is located in the heart of the Historic Center of Lima and is fittingly the capital’s principal public space. The distinguished and imposing buildings surrounding the plaza are the Government Palace, the Lima Cathedral, the Archbishop’s Palace of Lima, the Municipal Palace and the Palace of the Union. The location for the plaza was designated on January 18th, 1535, the same day the city was founded, by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, in accordance to the 1523 Procedures for the creation of cities in the New World, outlined by King Charles I of Spain. The 17th century historian Bernabé Cobo said of the plaza: ...”it is the finest and most well-formed [plaza] that I have ever seen, even in Spain. It occupies an entire block, with the width of four streets on one side and four streets on the other, and with all four sides it measures more than two thousand feet; it is very flat...”
Francisco de Toledo and inaugurated on October 21, 1578. It consisted of a baluster and an elevated bowl, and in it had eight pipes through which water fell into the bowl on the next level. A ball at the top of the fountain dispersed water back onto the lower levels. The seal of the city was inscribed on this ball. This fountain was replaced by the viceroy García Sarmiento de Sotomayor, count of Salvatierra, who inaugurated it on September 8, 1651. It is this fountain which remains as the centerpiece of the plaza to this day.
The plaza itself has a colorful past: during the colonial era, it served as a market, bullfighting ring, and the city gallows. The plaza also became home to the auto de fe (act of faith), during which the penances declared by the Inquisition were carried out by and on the condemned. The tribunal of the Inquisition had one of its three courts in Lima. The first conviction occurred on November 15, 1573, and the victim was the first heretic to be tried and executed in the New World.
In 1821, José de San Martín proclaimed the Independence of Peru on this plaza. After this historic event, the flag of the new republic was paraded around the plaza. Later, in 1855, President Ramón Castilla inaugurated the first public street lighting system by installing the first gas lit lamp posts in the plaza.
Probably the most spectacular of Lima Centro’s colonial-era churches, the Iglesia San Francisco is a strikingly restored, yellow-and-white 17th-century baroque style complex that survived the massive earthquake in 1746. Cloisters and interiors are lined with beautiful azulejos (glazed ceramic tiles) from Seville; carved mudéjar (Moorish-style) ceilings are overhead. Guided tours take visitors past the cloisters to a fine museum of religious art, with beautifully carved saints and a series of portraits of the apostles completed by the studio of Francisco Zurbarán, the famed Spanish painter. For many, though, the most fascinating component of the visit is the descent into the catacombs, which were dug beginning in 1546 as a burial ground for priests and others. (As many as 75,000 bodies were interred here before the main cemetery was built.) File past loads of bones – the exact number of subterranean levels is unknown—and see a circular well lined with perfectly laid skulls and femurs. Also of great interest are the church, outfitted with an impressive neoclassical altar, and a fantastic 17th-century library with 20,000 books, many of which date to the first years of Lima’s foundation. A breathtaking carved Moorish ceiling over a staircase is a reconstruction of the original from 1625. Allow 1½ hours to see it all, including waiting time for an English-language tour.
The Santuario Las Nazarenas church, also in Lima Centro, is the origin of the extremely popular Peruvian Catholic procession of Señor de los Milagros, the Lord of Miracles, who is also the patron saint of the city. These festivities in the month of October constitute the most important religious event in Lima. The sanctuary was constructed together with Monastery of Nazarenas in the eighteenth century, after a strong earthquake in 1746.
The historic monument, Plaza de Toros de Acho, in Rimac, is the most important among the 56 official bullrings in the country. Construction began on 30 Jan 1766 using classic materials, adobe and wood, and it has survived the various earthquakes that have rocked Lima in the centuries since its construction. The plaza is the oldest in the Americas and the second-oldest in the world after La Maestranza in Spain (not counting the Roman Empire-era Arles Amphitheatre in France, which is still in use). Technically, though the Peruvian plaza’s construction began after its Spanish counterpart, it was the first to actually reach completion. Acho was rebuilt in 1946, and the capacity was amplified to 13,000 spectators, but in the act of reconstruction no longer qualified as the largest bullring in the world.
Each year, the plaza showcases the most celebrated bullfighters of the world. Additionally, the annual bullfighting fair Señor de los Milagros is held at the plaza on Sundays through October and parts of November. The best bullfighter of the year is awarded the Escapulario de Oro (Golden Scapular).
For many years, the Jirón de la Unión was the most important avenue in downtown Lima, characterized as the most “aristocratic,” where city’s most celebrated and revered personalities would gather. Later, as a consequence of the general deterioration of the city center in the 1960s, the Jirón de la Unión lost its original defining character and became a strictly commercial avenue.
Running along the eastern side of the Plaza de Armas, the Jirón de la Unión was laid out by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro when he founded the City of Lima on the 18th of January, 1535.
During the first years of the newly formed Republic, the Jirón de la Unión was lined with various cafes, restaurants and illustrious shops selling imported goods and jewelry. Not surprisingly, this meant that members of the highest social classes were the only ones to frequent the avenue. In fact, up until the 1950s one could fill an entire afternoon just strolling down the avenue, for which only the best of one’s wardrobe was expected, naturally. The city’s most notable personalities in the cultural, political, and social arenas were often found within the avenue’s many cafes. Since the 1970s, more of the avenue’s blocks have become strictly pedestrian, and today the Jirón de la Unión is evidently commercial, albeit without its original aristocratic charm.
The open air, mall-like complex of Larcomar is the ideal place when you want a large and easy array of dining options, shops, entertainment like bars, discotheques, or to go see a movie. The two extremely popular discotheques are Aura and Gotica, both open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and in summer (January and February) also Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Larcomar’s principal attraction is its breathtaking location. Set atop the cliffs of Miraflores overlooking the Pacific Ocean, one can appreciate the marvelous views while dining or simply strolling around. This is one of the best places to be at the end of a sunny day to catch a stunning sunset.
Located approximately 15 m / 25 km south of urban Lima are the fascinating Pachacamac ruins, a must for those who don’t mind venturing out of the city for a spectacular insight into the pre-Incan coastal cultures of Lima. This expansive archaeological site contains both pre-Inca and Inca temples, with the latter often built on top of the earlier temples in a demonstration of power and superiority. This was one of the major pilgrimage sites in South America, in the years 500 to 1500. There are three ramp pyramids and a Temple of the Sun, the only one of the temples which may be accessed. Visitors may choose to walk with a guide or drive along the road in their own vehicle – a much more attractive option for those days when the sun is out, as there is no shade onsite.
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