Between hope and disenchantment
Although it would seem so, Lima has not completely made a clean slate of the past. Over the last decades, it has been striving to preserve and enhance its historic centre, which the city proudly recalls it was designated as world heritage site by UNESCO in 1991. Bearing invaluable and meaningful symbols for the capital and the country, the historic district testifies to the foundation of the city by the famous conquistador Francisco Pissarro in 1535. The application of a checkerboard street layout, at the time, foreshadowed a conception typical of later centuries’ modern urban planning. The numerous brightly colourful facades, balconies lined with finely carved wood, sumptuous colonial large houses (casonas), churches and monasteries in the Baroque style, revive the memory of the Spanish Viceroyalty era splendour.
The monumental and elegant San Martin Square, named after the charismatic Argentine general who liberated Peru in 1821, is one of the most prominent public spaces showcased by the historic centre. It is also one of the most modern, with its neo-colonial architectural design and buildings dating back to the early twentieth century. The square is crossed by two arteries of high traffic; the large Nicolas de Piérolas Avenue, named after the former president of Peru, and Jiron de la Union. The latter encompasses a long pedestrian shopping segment, leading within the oldest parts of the historic centre, to the imposing Plaza de Armas (Plaza Mayor).
Photo of the main commercial and pedestrian street, Jiron de la Union. It is one of the busiest of the inner centre.
The Plaza Mayor stands as the original birthplace of the city. It is the seat of the highest political authorities, the sumptuous palace of the government and the municipality, the Archbishop's Palace and lastly the huge cathedral of Lima, several times destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt. Despite its monumentality, the Plaza de Armas, does not arouse admiration as one might expect from such a symbolic place for a capital. The sobriety of the central areas layout and "gardens", the lack of green spaces, the low maintenance of building facades, along with the wide auto lines cordoning off the square, contribute to affect the overall visual experience of the site.
Overall, the historic centre reveals sharp contrasts. Though the core centre, modest in size but endowed with numerous symbolic landmarks, is relatively well preserved, busier and safer, its edges show a different aspect. Indeed, crossing the Avenue Abancay, a few blocks away in the West, you come across much more helpless and insecure areas of the historic centre. Similarly, not far behind the San Martin Square, further south, towards the Palace of Justice, the urban environment turns more hostile, fostering some insecure feelings. In the north, the inner centre is bounded by the Rimac river. Beyond the river, the Rimac district, accessible by multiple bridges, also has a rich historical heritage, though its exploration requires more vigilance.
Furthermore, although some areas may be fully alive and worthwhile in terms of architectural heritage, they do not seem spared from savage occupation and creeping deterioration. Despite more stringent control form local authorities, informal and itinerant trade has long ago spread within many old buildings, hardly preserved. Arguably, the overall conditions of the urban fabric remain very uneven, raising successively great excitement and disenchantement. Again, while some pedestrian shopping streets, often the most popular, punctuated with their iconic buildings, look renovated and enhanced, you can fall quite rapidly, at a street corner, on tagged and degraded façades. As the sun goes down, my pedestrian exploration soon comes to an end.