Lima Historic Center
Founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535 as "the City of Kings," Lima was laid out according to the standard Spanish colony grid plan that was superimposed on a crossing point of pre-existing Inca roads. In 1544, Lima became the political and administrative center of the Viceroyalty of Peru, which until the eighteenth century controlled a territory extending from Panama to the Strait of Magellan. From its foundation until the establishment of free trade at the end of the eighteenth century, Lima's port of Callao was the point of entry for all trade from Spain, Mexico, and China to South America. Prospering from this monopoly, a wealthy class emerged, building important houses, palaces, gardens, and churches.
The Convent of Our Lady of El Rosario, of the Dominican Order, was one of the first established in Lima, in the 16th century. It occupied two city blocks and contained up to eight cloisters and courtyards. One of the remaining courtyards and surrounding cloister became part of a residential complex owned by the Beneficent Society of Lima, a philanthropic organization that provides support for the poor and the sick. This complex, now known as “Casa de las Columnas,” became a National Monument in 1972.
How We Helped
After the Historic Center of Lima was listed on the 2008 Watch, La Casa de las Columnas was chosen as a pilot conservation project. WMF joined forces with the Escuela Taller de Lima, whose trainees worked on the restoration with support of the Population Research and Documentation Center CIDAP and the local neighborhood association. After an assessment and historic documentation of the structure, its deterioration and interventions over the years, the implementation phase in 2010 included the cleaning and restoration of the Rococo Portal and public areas. Parallel to the restoration work, several workshops and programs were developed to encourage community participation and educate young tenants to become capable stewards of a piece of Lima’s cultural heritage. These helped instill awareness of the complex’s historic importance to residents and the surrounding neighborhood.
WMF joined with the CIDAP and local preservation specialists to develop an exhibition on the historic center of Lima that has traveled to numerous locations in Peru, Ecuador, Cuba, Spain and Italy. Historic Center of Lima, a Living City offers a tour through the past and present of the historic core of Lima, generating broader public awareness and appreciation for the remarkable living heritage of the city.
The completion of the conservation program at Casa de las Columnas was celebrated in July 2010 with the participation of local partners and the neighborhood association.
Why It Matters
Although an economic boom during the first half of the 20th century brought many urban improvements to the city—such as paved streets, markets, and public buildings—it also resulted in a virtual abandonment of Lima's historic center by wealthy owners who were eager to move to newly created suburbs and business centers. Former mansions were subdivided by poorer tenants and the city infrastructure became overloaded. Despite several attempts at rehabilitation by several city mayors, hundreds of monuments and thousands of residences in the historic center have been abandoned and threatened by collapse.
There is now some hope for the historic center, as the Peruvian executive and its ministers recently passed a law by supreme decree allowing the transfer or sale of “precarious residential property” owned by the Beneficent Society of Lima to private investors. This law will permit the transfer of the Casa de las Columnas to its current tenants and this will trigger the participation of the Ministry of Housing with financial bonds for rehabilitation of the structure. This will open new opportunities for restoration of the threatened residential areas of the historic center.