Located in the northern mountains of Peru, Cajamarca was settled by pre-Inca cultures as early as 5000 B.C. In the fifteenth century A.D, the region became a strategic Incan administrative center for the Tahuantinsuyo Empire under the rule of Tupac Yupanqui, who ruled from 1471 to 1493. Cajamarca was the site of the first encounter between Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro and Atahualpa in 1532 before he conquered the Inca Empire.
Due to its relative isolation, colonial and post-colonial development in Cajamarca was incremental, allowing the city to maintain much of its provincial character and historic architecture. The historic center of Cajamarca is remarkable for its well-preserved Baroque architecture constructed of volcanic stone and characterized by ornate façades. A significant example of viceroyal architecture in Cajamarca is the Belén Religious Complex, comprised of two hospitals, a church, and other community buildings. From its development in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the complex has played a vital role in the community as a religious site continuously in use, and providing medical care well into the twentieth century.
Belén Religious Complex: Revitalization through planning and restoration
For many years the historic center was undermined by ad-hoc development and the absence of a management plan. In 2010, the Municipality of Cajamarca, the local office of the Ministry of Culture, and the Asociación Los Andes de Cajamarca (ALAC) carried out the conservation of several important historic structures, monumental plazas, and public spaces, and developed the master plan for the historic center.
WMF collaborated with ALAC and the Ministry of Culture on the conservation of the Belén Religious Complex, specifically to address the extensive damages to the church’s vaults caused by rainwater infiltration. Technical studies supported by the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage were instrumental in developing a plan for emergency intervention at severely damaged areas, including the church arcade and the adjacent cemetery. The religious complex is an important example of Andean Baroque and a colonial-period monument of significant importance. The last major intervention at the site had been carried out in the 1970s. Ongoing plans for the rehabilitation of the complex will secure its ongoing use and enjoyment by residents and visitors of this integral part of Cajamarca’s historic center.
In 2017, the Ministry of Culture included the Belén Religious Complex in “Puerto Cultura”, an ambitious national program that aims to rehabilitate archaeological and historical heritage sites in Peru and promote cultural activities in public spaces near the sites.