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Lima’s rich history is concentrated in the historical centre of the city, known by the Limeños as Cercado de Lima. The architecture consists of an interesting collection of 16th-century basilicas, convents, houses and squares. This unique cultural heritage on the shores of the Rimac River has been awarded a prestigious UNESCO World heritage designation.
Francisco Pizarro founded his Ciudad de los Reyes, the ‘City of Kings’, in 1535. The name didn’t really take but the city did become the centre of South America. For 3 centuries, Lima was the political, religious and economic capital of the New World and the home of the viceroy. Various authorities settled here, quickly followed by churches, convents, mansions, bridges and squares. These impressive samples of colonial architecture evoke a past era.
Part of Lima’s historic centre is also referred to as ‘Damero de Pizarro’ (‘Pizarro’s checkerboard’). It earned this description because the streets have been laid out in a straight, regular grid pattern. The area is very compact and from the Plaza Mayor, the former Plaza de Armas, most monuments are within walking distance. Keep an eye out for the Casa de Aliaga, the oldest colonial house in the city and perhaps in all of South America, and also for the Palacio Torre Tagle, the current seat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
One of the most impressive attractions is the San Francisco monastery complex, which consists of 3 churches, 5 monasteries, a library and several crypts. A guide can take you on a 45-minute tour of the impressive buildings and the classic interior, decorated with frescoes, paintings, wood carvings, thousands of old, leather-bound books and a respectable art collection. The crypts, which until the beginning of the 19th century served as Lima's cemetery, are the highlight of the tour. More than 15,000 people have found their final resting place here.
As you stroll around the monuments of historic Lima, it is hard to miss the beautiful wooden balconies. Some famous examples include those on the façade of the Archbishop’s Palace, and the balconies of the Casa de Pilatos, Casa del Oidor and Casa Negreiros. As the balconies are a characteristic part of colonial architecture, the city has encouraged its residents to adopt one. This will ensure that the balconies are properly maintained and preserved as a cultural and historic monument.
Even before the arrival of Francisco Pizarro, the settlement on the river was called Lima. Nobody knows for sure where the name came from. It may be derived from Aymara, a local language in which 'lima-limaq' means yellow flower. The origin could also lie in the Quechua word 'rimaq'. Rimaq means ‘speaker’ and the Spaniards pronounced the word as ‘limaq’. Although Pizarro baptized the city with the promising name of Ciudad de los Reyes (City of Kings), people continued to call it Lima.