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A Historical Architectural Tour Of Lima, Peru

Terra Explorer
September 22, 2022

A few days ago, I turned to the NYTimes to find a beautifully written piece by Michael Snyder on the prismatic, concrete-shrouded home of celebrated Peruvian artist Miguel Andrade in Lima. This came as a reminder of the growing architectural scene streaming out of the coastal metropolis, which as of today, nurtures and takes from the eclectic, motley history of the city as well as the currently favored isms around the globe. 

Here at Terra Explorer, we’ll shortly dive into 6 historic buildings in Peru that inspire architects, designers, and artists alike. Make sure to add them to your architectural tour when talking to your bespoke travel advisor. Full disclosure: we’ll skirt over most of the ones already recommended by Google. So you won’t find the Palacio de Gobierno nor the Plaza San Martín here.

Acllahuasi, Pachacamac Archaeological Complex

Inca, c. 1450 

I promise this is the only site outside the city, just a three-hour drive away from Lima. Yet the journey is pretty much worth the hassle since it is the only surviving Inca building on the coast of Peru and a stark contrast to the more is more ethos that succeeded after the Conquista.

Although this edifice is part of a larger religious Inca complex, the Acllahuasi is the sole example of the monumental Cusco-style architecture translated into a new medium: adobe blocks (instead of masonry). The structure was masterfully restored by archaeologist Julio C. Tello in the 1940s, according to documents from when the Spaniards had just docked in the city.

It showcases the minimalist architectural language favored by the Inca elites. But in lieu of perfectly cut and polished stone work, the ancient designers turned to finely plastered adobe. The clay walls, slightly inclined over light terracotta stone foundations, are populated by banks of trapezoid gateways and niches.

Casa de Aliaga, Centro de Lima

Architect Unknown, 1535

Just left of Palacio de Gobierno lies the oldest dwelling in the Americas, inhabited by the same noble family since its founding —when Lima was just proclaimed a city by the Spanish. Today, the residence is an ode to the maximalist sensibilities of the Peruvian aristocracy all the way from the 16th up to the 19th century. 

Throughout its eventful history —presidents, saints, and rebels are characters in it— seventeen generations of heirs left behind traces of their preferred isms; and today, the house collages under the same roof a cornucopia of styles: Baroque, Moorish revival, early Art Nouveau, Neo-Baroque, and even specks of Beaux-Arts. A mix impossible to find anywhere else in the world.

Quinta de Presa, Rímac

Architect Unknown, c. 1850

Little is known about the design and construction of the lavish country villa, as it was purchased by various owners during the 19th century and then abandoned for decades. Thankfully, most of the rococo edifice has not gone through taste-driven renovations throughout its tumultuous life. And today, the Government is restoring the site —2024 is the date for its completion. 

This is the single specimen of residential rococo in Peru. And as World Monuments Fund puts it: “Quinta de Presa reflects the refined history of the Spanish-Creole aristocracy of Lima during the Age of Enlightenment, who used such villas for leisure activities as well as for cultural and scientific pursuits.” The 15000 m2 property includes a residence, a mill, outbuildings, a courtyard, and extensive gardens.

Casa Rosell-Rios (Kokopelli Hostel, Lima), Barranco

By H. Ratouin, 1916 – Restored By Puna Studio, 2020

A sui generis residence designed by French Art Nouveau enthusiast H. Ratouin among the streets of the then summer town of the upper classes: Barranco. Twisting and twirling in nature, the house is a singular paragon example of Lima’s eclecticism. And although Art Nouveau at first sight, on closer inspection, one unearths decorative elements from Victorian, Neo-Baroque, Neoclassical Architecture, Moric Revival, and even some nods to indigenous Peruvian personages. 

In 2020, after decades of neglect, the property was restored by Puna Studio —with Mariana Otero and Yerko Salazar at the helm. And today, a bohemian hostel occupies the site, perhaps honoring its first intended leisurely purpose. 

Palacio Arzobispal, Centro de Lima

By Ricardo de Jaxa Malachowski, 1924

This is the first and most influential iteration of the Neo-colonial style, which reigned in Lima until the 1940s. This revival takes on stylistic principles from the 16th and 17th century Spanish baroque while resorting to the severe symmetric composition of Beaux-Arts. 

From the facade, which mirrored in ornamentation the Palacio de Torre Tagle (a famed building in the city from colonial times), protrudes heavily carved wood balconies, a signature architectural feature in early 17th century Lima. The imposing edifice transubstantiates the early aesthetic to much modern materials: concrete, steel, and bricks —all gently veneered by white stone. To the untrained eyes, it can be deceivingly dated to the 1600s.

Find it at the Plaza de Armas, next to the Palacio de Gobierno. Fun fact: Ricardo de Jaxa also designed the presidential residence.

El Comercio Building, Centro de Lima

By Felipe González del Riego & Enrique Rivero Tremouille, 1924

One of the prime examples of Beaux-Arts in Peru —predominantly Neo-Baroque. It was commissioned by El Comercio (the most prominent newspaper in Peru to this day) to “resemble a fortress” after the prior building had been attacked by an angry mob of supporters of newly elected President Leguía. And so it became a grandiose construction —considering the narrow streets beside it. The top of the round corner of the building, where the entrance is, is crowned by a compact dome. And banks of columns populate the exterior walls.

Today, the building still houses the headquarters of the editorial company. The interiors have been preserved for the most part. The Beaux-Arts furniture, the marble floors, the grand stairs, and a stained glass ceiling on the second floor.  

And there you have it, 6 historic buildings every architecture aficionado must visit in Peru. And if you’re looking for private art tours or cultural outings in this southern nation, contact our team of experts for a tailor-made trip to Peru.

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