Machu Picchu Travel

Colonial Center

Colonial Center

The Colonial Center is the most significant area of the city due to its historical and cultural value. It was here where the Spanish conquerors established and built the first colonial settlement in the region.

However, Lima was already occupied long before the arrival of the Spaniards. The region was the development center of several pre-Inca civilizations that also paved the way to new customs and traditions during that era.

As it is represented by the Pachacamac Temple, an important ceremonial center located a few kilometers from the city, as well as the famous Huaca Pucllana within the Miraflores district and Huaca Huallamarca, situated in the heart of the upscale neighborhood San Isidro.

Nonetheless, upon the Spanish conquest, most of these sites were already abandoned and the expansion of the city began as soon as the Inca Empire was defeated. The city was divided as a chessboard, where each block is perfectly squared with 90° angles and distributed around the main square, Plaza Mayor.

Lima’s old town offers an authentic glimpse of how life was during colonial times since most of its structures have been preserved until the actual date, providing an authentic contrast of two heavily-marked eras.

The Historic Center of Lima gathers over 600 historical monuments, which is why it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. The cultural value in Lima city is like no other, dare to travel in time while visiting this so-acclaimed tourist attraction and immerse yourself in the uniqueness of the City of Kings.

Brief History

At the beginning of the Colonial period, the city was known under the name of ‘City of Kings,’ which was designated by the Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro in 1535. However, the region was commonly known as Lima by the native communities that inhabited these lands, and later this name was acquired overtime.

Lima was the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru due to its strategic location near the sea in comparison to Jauja, which could’ve been the capital of the hispanic monarchy. The so-called City of Kings was the most important city of South America as well as the biggest capital of the continent during that era.

Unfortunately, Lima was constantly stricken by violent earthquakes between 1586 and 1687, which enforced the reconstruction of the entire capital, including its main political and religious settlements.

Likewise, due to its close proximity to the coast, the city was threatened by the attack of pirates coming from the Pacific ocean, which motivated the construction of defensive walls that enclosured the city.

Going further down the future, the country reached its independence in 1821, becoming the now flaming Republic of Peru, thanks to an expedition carried out by Argentine and Chilean independentists led by the general Don José de San Martín.

Main Attractions

As aforementioned, Lima holds over 600 historical monuments within its old town. Currently, the area has been cautiously preserved and has maintained a great part of its cultural and historical heritage.

However, Lima faced a modernization phase mid the 20th century that seriously endangered the historic center. Luckily, after UNESCO declared the Church and Convent of San Francisco a World Heritage Site in 1988, the government started to rescue and to maintain the structures within the old town.

Nowadays, the Historic Centre of Lima is one of the most sought after attractions in the city. The entire site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, adding a great historical value to the area. 

If you’re looking to admire Lima’s colonial center from up close, here we have listed some of the unmissable structures in the area:

1. Plaza Mayor: Lima’s Main Square
Also known as Plaza de Armas, it is located in the heart of the Historic Center of Lima. Around the square lie the Government Palace, the Cathedral of Lima,  the Municipal Palace, Archbishop’s Palace of Lima, and the Union Palace.

During the colonial era, Plaza Mayor served as a fighting ring, a market, and the city gallows. However, this was the place where Jose de San Martin proclaimed Peru’s independence. Currently, it remains listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991.
Address: Plaza Central Lima, Cercado de Lima.

2. Palacio del Gobierno
Also known as Casa Pizarro, it is the current headquarters of the Attorney Power of Peru and the official residency of the President of Peru. The palace was built in 1535 and has maintained the same purpose until the actual date.

However, due to the seismic activity in the city of Lima, the site was destroyed several times and eventually sacked in 1541. The site is composed of several rooms, gardens, courtyards and halls dedicated to notable figures of Peruvian history.
Address: Jirón de la Unión s/n, Cercado de Lima.

3. Palacio Municipal de Lima
It is one of the structures located in the surroundings of Plaza Mayor or Plaza de Armas in Lima. The site offers an authentic neo-colonial architectural style with imposing balconies from the viceroyalty time.

The Municipal Palace of Lima was built between 1943 and 1944 during the government of the Mariscal Oscar R. Benavides. The site has several rooms, a municipal library, and a gallery of Peruvian art that date back to the XIX and XX centuries.
Address: Jirón de la Unión 300, Cercado de Lima.

4. Palacio Arzobispal
Also bordering the beautiful Plaza de Armas of Lima, the Archbishop’s Palace is one of the perfect examples of neo-colonial architecture. The structure also comprehends barroco, neobarroco and neoplateresque features on its facade.

The site has had several modifications since 1535. Pope Paul III named Lima an episcopal seat in 1541 and designated the palace as the primary church headquarters of the city. However, after years of reconstructions, the site was finally inaugurated in 1924.
Address: Jirón Carabaya, Cercado de Lima.

5. Cathedral of Lima
The famous Cathedral of Lima was built in 1535, though it suffered several renovations due to the earthquakes that struck the city between 1609 and 1974. However, the architects that carried out these reconstructions were able to maintain its original colonial style.

It is one of the most beautiful cathedrals of the continent since the Spanish conquerors wanted it to resemble the Cathedral of Seville in Spain. The religious building is composed of three frontal doors, 14 side doors, and two back doors; each decorated and named after a saint.
Address: Jirón Carabaya, Cercado de Lima.

6. Basilica and Convent of San Francisco
It’s located one block from Lima’s main square and it has remained as one of the most important historical monuments within downtown Lima. Likewise, the Saint Francis Monastery is recognized for holding the oldest library in Peru, and it also hides a well-known secret underneath its structure.

This colonial building is famous for having a series of catacombs where over 25,000 are buried. This famous burial place was discovered in 1943. Surprisingly, it has stood up well to the many earthquakes that threatened these lands. Currently, this location remains as a paid tourist attraction and the companion of a professional guide is mandatory.
Address: Jirón Lampa, Cercado de Lima

7. Monastery of Santa Rosa de Lima
It was built between the 17th and 18th centuries, situated next to the house were Santa Rosa de Lima, the patron saint of Lima, America and the Philippines. Although the site is of a smaller scale in comparison to others of its time, it holds an impressive decoration that adds up a great cultural value to the structure
Address: Jirón Sta. Rosa 605, Cercado de Lima.

8. Church and Convent of Santo Domingo
It is considered the perfect example of Colonial architecture within Lima’s old town. It was built in 1578, though it’s construction took over 50 years to complete. However, due to the many earthquakes that struck the city, some parts of its structure had to be rebuilt.

The Church and Convent of Santo Domingo houses the remains of the most significant Peruvian saints: Santa Rosa de Lima and San Martin de Porres, the first black saint in South America.
Address: Jirón Camaná 170, Cercado de Lima.

9. La Merced Church
The site was built in the 18th century in honor of the patron of the Arms of the Nation, the Virgin of Mercedes. The church is recognized for its authentic architectural style and for holding numerous works of art, including a beautiful altar in its interior.
Address: Jirón de la Unión 621, Cercado de Lima.

10. Plaza San Martin
Right in famous Nicolás de Piérola Avenue lies a public space considered as one of the most representative locations of the city of Lima. The San Martin Square was built in honor of the General José de San Martín, the general who led the Peruvian independence movement.

It was inaugurated in 1921 by the President Augusto Leguía, the site counts with a monument to the San Martín General made entirely of bronze, surrounded with flower gardens and four water fountains.
Address: Av. Nicolás de Piérola, Cercado de Lima.

How to Visit Lima Colonial Center?

Lima’s old town is located in the heart of the city, it is the most touristy area of the region. If you want to visit the enigmatic Historic Center of Lima, you can join a guided tour or do it on your own. However, it is not advisable to explore these attractions without an expert since there are so many details to be covered that you certainly can’t miss.

The aforementioned attractions are located in a walking distance, which is why many tour operators offer different options to visit these attractions. It is worth mentioning that the site is located far away from the touristy district of lima, Miraflores. 

Luckily for you, we have an exclusive Modern & Colonial Lima City Tour that will get you around the best attractions of the area.

Important Note:
Some of these attractions are open on specific days and may require an entrance fee. Also, others are not open to the public but you can appreciate them from the outside.

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