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Here's Why Lima Is Called the City of Kings

Picture of Brandon Dupre
Updated: 23 March 2018
You most likely know Lima only as, well, Lima. How would it be any other way? However, it was not always so. “The City of Kings” was its first name – but why? Here is a brief history of how Lima came by its original name, Ciudad de los Reyes.

The Spanish came to Peru looking for gold and silver that they could take back to Spain. They were looking for riches and glory when they landed on the shores of Peru, ready to establish a colony in this new land that they had found. They did not first land in Lima, but they soon established it as Spain’s main city in Peru, a place where they could serve the throne from abroad.

Sunset over Lima
Sunset over Lima | © youleks / Pixabay

In 1535, Francisco Pizarro decided to call Lima Ciudad de los Reyes, or “the City of Kings,” but it may not be for the reasons you’re thinking of. The newly named City of Kings was not named after the Spanish king, but because the founding of the city fell on the day of a religious holiday. Pizarro chose the name because Lima was founded during the Catholic holiday of Three Kings Day. One excuse that the Spanish had for colonizing Peru was that they wanted to achieve the salvation of the people by bringing them the word of God, so it made sense to name their city after a Catholic holiday.

The city that is now Lima quickly developed as the capital of Spain in South America, giving the city’s name a new layer of meaning, while also complicating the connotation of the City of Kings. Lima was considered to be loyal to the crown, and was the last country in South America to claim independence. While the city was founded as “the City of Kings,” the name did not stick as Pizarro had hoped.

Shortly after its founding, the city lost its original name. The inhabitants of the area of Lima during the Spanish’s arrival, who were subservient to the Incas, called the area “Limaq“. The Spanish, however, couldn’t pronounce the final “q”, so they dropped it, thus creating the city we now know and love as “Lima.”

Today, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who calls the city Ciudad de los Reyes; the epithet has, for the most part, been lost to time. It remains “Lima,” a name that now carries with it an array of different connotations. In Peru today, Lima is mostly known to Peruvians as “Lima la gris,” because of the thick blanket of fog that covers the city for almost the entire year. But while the “City of Kings” name has fallen out of use, the city remains the capital of Peru, and the biggest city in the country.