Intriguing Things You Didn’t Know About Lima, Peru

Skyline Cityscape of Lima | © Imperial94/Flickr
Skyline Cityscape of Lima | © Imperial94/Flickr
Photo of Manuel Orbegozo
3 July 2017

Almost everyone who comes to Peru has to stop by Lima. Even since pre-Hispanic times, Lima has always served as an administrative place where powerful decisions are made. Nowadays, Lima is inhabited by more than eight million people. As it grows daily, Lima continues to be the most visited city in South America. Learn some interesting facts about the “City of the Kings.”

Lima was built over a desert

Lima is the second largest city built on a desert after Cairo in Egypt. It gets 80 per cent of its water from the Rimac river, which runs across downtown Lima. Civilizations before Spanish conquest began to build water canals 2,000 years ago, which are still being used today. Despite Lima’s three main rivers, only 92 per cent of its citizens have access to drinking water.

Lima’s pre-Columbian buildings

Lima’s history dates thousands of years before the conquest. In fact, you can see traces of older cultures that inhabited the desert and made it possible for water to reach the entire city through the canals they built. Before the Incas, the dominant culture in Lima was the Yschmas, who left traces of their temples and administrative centers like Pachacamac – an astonishing archeological sanctuary in the southern coastal side of the city – or the Huaca Pucllana, right in the heart of Miraflores. Don’t wait until visiting Cusco to see amazing pre-Hispanic buildings.

The Huaca Pucllana was a ceremonial and administrative center for the Lima culture 1,500 years ago | ©Mckay Savage/Flickr

City of the kings

Lima was founded on January 18, 1535 by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Legend says that Lima was given the title of “City of the Kings” due to its foundation date’s proximity to Epiphany, a Christian festival that celebrates the adoration by the three Biblical Magi. Anthropologist Maria Rostworowski clarified that the “City of the Kings” title was actually an homage to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and to his mother, Joanna of Castile.

Lima’s Plaza de Armas fountain dates to 1651 | ©Paulo Guereta/Wikipedia

The presidential palace was built on top of ruins

Building, Ruins, Historical Landmark, Archaeological site
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Peru's presidential palace rests on top of pre-Columbian ruins
Peru's presidential palace rests on top of pre-Columbian ruins | © Dennis Jarvis/Flickr
Before Lima became the most important viceroyalty in the Spanish empire, the territory was controlled by a man named Taulichusco, a lord who oversaw it all from his home built exactly where the current presidential palace stands. In 2011, the remains of a 2,000-year-old temple under the presidential palace were made public by the then-president in office Alan García. To visit the Presidential Palace, you must book your tickets in advance at the Palace Tourism Office, which is located right across from the palace.

Is the world’s smallest church in Lima?

Some say the world’s smallest chapel is called Cross Island Chapel and it’s located in Oneida, New York. But the Chapel Our Lady of the Rosary in the Rimac district in downtown Lima continues to be called by Peruvian faithful as the smallest church in the world because it has all the features of a normal-sized church: main altar, vault, towers, images and a pulpit. It was built in 1550 and it’s 16-feet wide, 39-feet long and 32-feet tall. Located at the second street of Trujillo avenue, the chapel is open Monday to Saturday from 8AM to 12:30PM, and from 4PM to 6:30PM. It’s open on Sundays from 8AM to 12:30PM.

Black vultures

If you’re in Lima, look up: you’ll see black vultures circling or watching over the city from a rooftop. Despite popular beliefs that give them a bad reputation (trash eaters, bad omens), black vultures – also known as “gallinazos” are responsible for cleaning up the city. They have also inspired short stories, academic essays and art pieces that revindicate their guardian status. Last year, a campaign was implemented to strap GoPro cameras onto black vultures to keep control over waste dumping areas throughout the city.

The Inca trail in Lima

The Inca trail known as Qhapaq Ñan (the Beautiful Road) is 6,000 kilometers long and connected the five countries of the Inca empire. For trekkers, it’s mostly known for being the perfect route to travel from Cusco to Machu Picchu. But Qhapaq Ñan also reached Lima. When Spanish conquerors arrived, they found a very urbanized area, with roads that connected the highlands with the coast. Some of the best preserved remains of Qhapaq Ñan can be found at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. Most of it was replaced with Lima’s main transit roads and avenues like Camino del Inca, literally meaning “The Inca’s Road.”

Chifa’s origins

The first Chinese immigrants came to Lima in 1849 to work at plantations. They brought their traditions and, of course, their cuisine. One of their dishes, mostly made of fried rice, became popular under the name of “in chi fan”, which means “have you eaten?”. This word eventually became Chaufa (current name for fried rice) and Chifa, a term Peruvians use to refer to Chinese restaurants. You can visit South America’s most important Chinese colony at the Capon neighborhood located in downtown Lima, where you’ll find authentic Chinese food and you can even have your name carved into a hexagonal tile.

Calle Capon, Lima, Peru

Inquisition museum

The Spanish Inquisition is best remembered for torturing anyone who did not believe in God. In some cases, people were burned alive at the stake. Although it was definitively abolished by royal decree in 1834, the Spanish Inquisition building is still open for visitors who want to explore their dungeons and more than 30,000 torturing tools. It is located in downtown Lima, right next to the Legislative palace.

Plaza Bolivar, Jirón Junín, Lima, Peru

Lima and pirates

Located in northern Lima, Callao is the principal seaport in Peru. Since it became a popular business center during Spanish viceroyalty times, many pirates tried to enter the city through there. Even Sir Francis Drake, one of the history’s most famous pirates, tried to rescue fellow buccaneers who were imprisoned in Lima in 1579. As a response to these attacks, viceroys built the Real Felipe Fortress, one of the most expensive buildings in Spanish colonies, now turned into Peru’s military museum. Legend says that the place is haunted and that cries can be heard during visits.

Fortaleza Real Felipe, Plaza de la Independencia, Callao, Lima, Peru, +51 429 0532

The Real Felipe Fortress|©Carlos Gabriel Gómez Tay/Wikipedia

The Real Felipe Fortress | © Carlos Gabriel Gómez Tay/Wikipedia

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