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Friday, July 23, 2010

Peru Vacation Day 2: Plaza De Armas, Lima

This post is a continuation of the description of the half-day city tour of Lima, that started off here. The Plaza Mayor or Plaza de Armas of Lima, is the birthplace of the city of Lima, as well as the core of the city. Located in the Historic Centre of Lima, it is surrounded by the Government Palace, Cathedral of Lima, Archbishop's Palace of Lima, the Municipal Palace, and the Palace of the Union.

It was created by conquistador, Francisco Pizarro, on January 18, 1535. The bronze water fountain in the center of the square dates back to 1651. The Cathedral Of Lima dates back to 1622.

Here are some pictures from the main square of Lima.

A broad view of the plaza, towards the Government Palace in the background.

Some views of the almost 400-year old bronze fountain in the middle of the plaza.

The Cathedral of Lima. Notice the intermix of baroque, gothic and other construction styles. Our guide explained to us that Lima was a very fashion-conscious city, so as construction proceeded, they used whatever style was most in vogue at that time rather than sticking to the original architectural plans. This construction style was also used when reconstruction was needed on any part of the structure due to earthquake damage or other reasons!

The Government Palace. Our guide proudly pointed out that while the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace takes about 15 minutes, it takes about an hour here. It happens at noon everyday. It was not included as part of our tour, but may be something interesting if you are in the area and have the time!

The municipal palace in Plaza De Armas.

The archbishop's palace.

Our guide also explained to us the difference between a "colonial balcony" and a "republican balcony", the two types of balconies present on buildings around the square. Colonial balcony design was brought over from Spain and features tiny windows that enabled women to watch without being watched. Republican balconies are a more modern style with larger windows.

A colonial balcony. It has a strong moorish influence, as our guide explained to us. Notice the tiny grill-work which enabled women to look out from the balcony without being seen themselves.

A republican balcony (newer style). Notice the more open construction with large windows.

After that we took a short walk to a famous bar in Lima called El Cordano. El Cordano is one of Lima’s oldest traditional bar-cum-restaurants with a 1920s décor. El Cordano is located very close to the Government Palace, and thus has had the visit of many politics and literature related guests since it opened in 1905. It is famous for its Pisco Sours.

The interior of bar El Cordano.

A Pisco Sour is a cocktail containing pisco, lemon or lime juice, egg whites, simple syrup, and regional bitters. The national origin of the pisco sour is debated, with both Chile and Peru laying claim to it. It is quite a strong drink, and I found it quite sour and bitter (but I am not a liquor connoisseur, and rarely drink cocktails or hard liquors).

My pisco sour at the bar. It costs 12 soles at El Cordano.

We then arrived at The San Francisco Monastery and Church. It is most famous for its catacombs, containing the bones of tens of thousands of bodies. The catacombs were originally used by all limeños in lieu of a cemetery until about 1821. After that the catacombs were sealed off. They were excavated by archeologists in 1943, and they have been opened to the public since about 1951. The bones were arranged in geometrical patterns to be more appealing to tourists. Estimates range from 25,000 to 70,000 as to the number of people whose remains are contained in the catacombs. There is no photography allowed inside the monastery and church, or the catacombs. They sell postcards with pictures from the church as well as the catacombs for very cheap prices (typically 1 sol per card). The tour included tickets to this attraction, which normally cost 5 soles.

Views of the Saint Francis Monastery, Lima.

A picture of the artistic arrangement of skulls and femurs in the catacombs under the Saint Francis Monastery.

The religious art in the Saint Francis church is also uniquely Peruvian. Notice Jesus and his apostles dining on guinea pig (cuy), a Peruvian delicacy at The Last Supper!

This was pretty much the end of our half-day tour. We were driven back to Miraflores (most of the tourists were from hotels in that area of the city). We were then given the option of being dropped off at our respective hotels, or being dropped off at a couple of recommended restaurants for lunch. We chose to be dropped off at a restaurant called Al Fresco. It is supposed to be a very good restaurant, famous for its Ceviche. The guide also told us approximately how to get back to our hotel from the restaurant before we were dropped off around 1:30 PM.

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