“Take every chance you get in life, because some things only happen once.”
Lima’s Historic Centre
Lima was known as the ‘City of Kings’ and its historic centre was founded by Spanish conqueror. Francisco Pizarro in 1535. One of the most notable things that the Spanish brought to Peru was the catholic religion, (and diseases like small pox) and this is seen by the sheer number of churches throughout the city and the money spent on them.
We stayed in Lima’s historic centre twice during our 8 day stay and while it had the historic buildings, the area did have an edgy feel to it and I felt conscious of both my belongings and the people around us. Would I recommend staying there? No, I would probably stay in the Miraflors area, the safer and more touristy area of Lima. An interesting sight throughout Lima is the high police presence. Most corners had armed police officers and armoured vehicles.
So after our mid afternoon arrival we wandered the streets in Lima. Our first stop was at the Convento de San Francisco.
Convento de San Francisco
The Church of San Francisco, dates from 1672 and is designed in Spanish Baroque style. While the church and monastery withstood earthquakes in 1687 and 1746, it did suffer extensive damage during the 1970 earthquake, although it has since been repaired. The church, like the Plaza de Armas forms part of Lima’s UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While the lemon exterior of the building with its many pigeons flying overhead is interesting, it is the interior that draws the visitors. To visit the interior and its catacombs you need to buy a guided ticket. We waited about 30 minutes for an available English speaking guide.
One of the first stops on our tour was the Library, which was reminiscent of what you would expect to find at Hogwarts in Harry Potter. On either side of the library are two wooden spiral staircases and shelves crammed with a 25 000 old books, some dating from the 15th century.
Following the library, we visited the Hall of the Choir, used by the Franciscan monks as their office or for religious ceremonies. The choir is filled with intricately carved cedar seats with timber brought from Panama in the 17th and 18th centuries. The walls feature religious oil paintings from the 16th century and there is also a pipe organ from 1901.
The main cloister is essentially a covered walkway between the building and the courtyard. The walkway’s columns and the lower half of the walls are covered in hand painted azujelos tiles from Seville, dating from 1620. The coffered ceilings are carved cedar wood from the 17th century and most is still the original tongue and groove technique. Above the tiles are a series of oil paintings about the life of St Francis. The tour moved through this area pretty quickly so you only get to glimpse at the remains of the artistic talent.
Another highlight of the Convent and Monastery is in the Refectory. The refectory was used as a dining room by the Franciscan monks, but the big draw card in this room is the large oil painting of the last supper. It is a very interesting and unique rendition of the last supper, due to the fact that the apostles are dining on a guinea pig, while a devil is standing beside Judas. Personally I could not recognise the object as a guinea pig, but Andrew said he could see it. The painting was originally believed to have been painted sometime between 1610 – 1620 by Diego de la Puente, a Flemish born painter who joined the Society of Jesus in 1605. However, during a restoration the year 1698 was discovered at the bottom of the painting, some 35 years after Diego died. So the artist remains unknown. Unfortunately my quick photo snap really does not do it justice.
But the real highlight is the descent into the catacombs, the underground vaults below the church. The catacombs were Lima’s first cemetery and are similar to those found in Rome. They were used until the early nineteenth century and contain the bones of an estimated 70 000 people. The catacombs encompass a maze of narrow hallways, with low ceilings and doorways, lined on each side with bones. In one area, a large round hole is filled with bones and skulls arranged in a geometrical pattern, like a piece of macabre artwork.
Burial in the catacombs involved stacking the coffins on top of each other, but separating each one with a layer of soil and lime to accelerate decomposition, while preventing epidemics and bad odours. Bones like skulls, femurs, tibias and fibulas are more readily seen than others, as they take the longest to decompose. The wealthy who made large contributions to the church bought themselves their own family vault.
In 1808 a new cemetery was opened and the catacombs subsequently closed. In 1950, after a period of restoration the catacombs were opened to the public.
- 9 am – 5 pm
- General Admission – Peruvian Sole – 15, approximately $4.50 USD/ $6.30 AUD
Then entrance fee includes a guided tour in Spanish or English through the church, monastery and catacombs.
Our next stop was the Plaza de Armas (Plaza Mayor). The plaza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, despite the fact that the original buildings, with the exception of the bronze fountain from 1651, were destroyed in the earthquake of 1746 and what we now see are either renovations or reconstructions. The Plaza de Armas has many beautiful buildings like the Cathedral, Archibishop’s Palace, the Casa del Oidor and the Palacio del Gobeirno.
Palacio de Gobeirno
The Palacio de Gobeirno was built in 1542 by Franciscco Pizarro to be both the residence and headquarters of the government and it continues to be used as the president’s official residence today. The palace is also the place where Jose San Martin declared Peru’s independence, on July 28th, 1821.
Similar to Buckingham Palace their are motionless guards stationed throughout the grounds of the Palace. Changing of the guards occur weekdays at noon, its a very simple ceremony, nothing like the elaborate ceremony at Buckingham Palace, although they do march raising their legs almost horizontal with the ground.
Lima’s cathedral is situated on the east side of the Plaza de Armas. The original cathedral was constructed in 1535 and later enlarged in 1564, based on the design of Seville’s cathedral in Spain. It suffered damage in the earthquake in 1687 and was nearly destroyed in the quake of 1746, but was rebuilt. We were there on a Sunday afternoon and went to visit, only to be told it was closed and to come back ‘mañana’. The interior of the cathedral houses a chapel decorated in mosaics which holds the tomb of Lima’s founder, Francisco Pizarro and the small Museum of Religious Art.
- Monday to Friday: 9 am – 5 pm
- Saturday: 10 am – 1 pm
- Sunday: 1 pm – 5 pm
- 10 Peruvian Soles – 0.90 USD
Spanish conqueror, Francisco Pizarro gave some land to Dominican Friar, Vicente Valverde, who built the church and monastery in 1540. The Dominican Friar had accompanied Pizarro throughout his conquest and is believed to have persuaded him to execute the captured Inca Atahualpa.
While the Convento has the catacombs and the Cathedral has the final resting place of Pizarro, Santo Domingo is the final resting place of three Peruvian saints San Juan Marcias, Santa Rosa de Lima and San Martin Porres.
Santa Rosa de Lima was and still is so popular that she is not only buried at the age of 31 under Santo Domingo, but also has a room in memory of her as well as gracing the face of the 200 Peruvian Sole and her own religious procession on August 30th. She devoted her life to caring for the elderly and poor children of Lima. She was the first female American canonised.
San Martin de Porres was the continents first black saint. He established an orphanage and a children’s’ hospital as well as many miraculous cures, such as caring for and curing many he cared for during an epidemic. He also raised money to feed the poor and was well known for his empathy towards others.
John Macias, originally from Spain is remember for his generosity to the poor, feeding up to 200 every day. He was aided in feeding the poor by a donkey who he sent through the streets of Lima with a sign asking for donations. The donkey apparently knew his route well and would often bray to attract attention from those inside to bring out their donations. Beggars, disabled and other disadvantaged people flocked to the friary gates for food, counsel and comfort and the rich came for advice.
The church houses many relics including the skulls of San Martin and Santa Rosa encased in glass on the right of the main alter.
- Adult $15 Peruvian Sole – approximately $6.30 AUD or / $4. Each
- 7 am – 11 am/ 4 pm – 8 pm