Lima History Facts and Timeline

(Lima, Peru)

La Catedral de Lima (Basilica Cathedral) photographThe rivers named the Chillon, the Lurin and the Rimac all lead to Lima, Peru's national capital and most famous city. Peru is also home to one of Latin America's biggest populations and as its capital, this city ranks amongst its most important financial hubs.

Lima is no longer the opulent city it was during its reign over the Spanish viceroyalty, which once governed so much of present-day South America. However, a sizeable percentage of the elegant colonial architecture from this glorious time in the history of Lima still lines the streets of the city today, often overlooking Peru's Pacific Ocean coast.

First Inhabitants

The Itchyma are the best known of the many Amerindian groups who lived around Lima before the Inca conquest. The most unusual artefacts that the Itchyma left behind in the history of the area were a collection of pyramids, numbering around 40 in total. These were used to irrigate the surrounding river valleys of both the Lurin and the Rimac.

The religious centre of Pachacamac formed the most significant collection of religious buildings constructed by the Inca during their 15th-century occupation of the area. Today, Pachacamac remains as an important archaeological site and ancient complex of temples, being situated some 30 km / 19 miles to the south-east. Of note, Atahualpa was the last Inca ruler to govern Peru during the history of Lima before the 1532 Spanish conquest.

City of the Kings

Just a year after Francisco Pizarro founded the capital city he named Ciudad de los Reyes, or 'City of Kings' in English, Manco Inca and his rebel troops tried to take back control of the city, but the Spanish quickly defeated them. The new capital of the flourishing Viceroyalty of Peru soon became the nucleus of a rapidly growing trade network between Europe, the Far East and the rest of the New World.

City Walls, Earthquakes, and Recessions

In the mid-1680s, Lima's city walls were built to keep pirates out of the city and provide a much-needed defensive barrier. However, the same year that construction of the walls was finished, much of Lima was destroyed by a devastating earthquake. The city's fortunes faded further with a trade recession, a silver production decline, and competition from other rapidly growing South American cities, including powerful Buenos Aires. In the mid-18th century, another earthquake further devastated both Lima and the nearby port of Callao.

Image of the Palacio Municipal (City Hall)

Republic of Peru Capital

Many local citizens were reluctant to support independence from Spain, because of the city's dependence on the Spanish royal family. Although General José Francisco de San Martin and his troops approached Lima in 1820, they chose not to enter the city. Lima changed hands numerous times during the two years after San Martin convinced the city council to sign a declaration of independence.

War of the Pacific

Even after Lima became the Republic of Peru's new capital, the city remained in economic decline until the middle of the 19th century, when it became a thriving export centre. These exports, however, did little to help the resident poor. During the War of the Pacific, angry locals did as much damage to the city's businesses and wealthy citizens as Chilean troops did to the public libraries, cultural institutions and schools. After the 1883 end of the War of the Pacific, Lima entered an expansion period which would last until the 1920s.

Earthquakes, Population Growth and Shantytowns

Yet another devastating earthquake demolished most of the city's rather primitive quincha (mud-covered reed framework) and adobe (clay, sand and water) buildings in 1940. Shortly afterwards, migrants from rural Andes Mountains villages began flocking to Lima in search of employment and education opportunities.

During the next four decades in the history of Lima, the city's population soared from about 600,000 in 1940 to nearly five million in 1980. As a result of this rapid growth, shanty towns started popping up throughout the city. Today, the city's safest and most affluent districts are Miraflores and San Isidro, as well, of course, as its very appealing historic city centre.