Excerpts from the Lonely Planet – Peru:
Lima has survived endless cycles of destruction and rebirth. Regular apocalyptic earthquakes, warfare and the rise and fall of civilizations have resulted in a city that is as ancient as it is new. When Francisco Pizarro sketched out the boundaries of his ‘City of Kings’ in January of 1535, there were roughly 200,000 indigenous people living in the area.
By the 18th century, the Spaniards’ tumbledown village of adobe and wood had given way to a vice regal capital, where fleets of ships arrived to transport the conquest’s golden spoils back to Europe. In 1746, a disastrous earthquake wiped out much of the city, but the rebuilding was rapid and streets were soon lined with baroque churches and ample casonas (mansions). The city’s importance began to fade after independence in 1821, when other urban centers were crowned capitals of newly independent states.
By the mid-1900s the number of inhabitants began to grow exponentially. An influx of rural poor took the metro area population from 661,000 in 1940 to 8.5 million by 2007. The migration was particularly intense during the 1980s, when the conflict between the military and assorted guerilla groups in the Andes sent victims of the violence flocking to the capital.
Shantytowns mushroomed, crime soared and the city fell into a period of steep decay. In 1992, the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) detonated deadly truck bombs in middle-class Miraflores, marking one of Lima’s darkest hours.
But the city has again dusted itself off and rebuilt – to an astonishing degree. A robust economy and a vast array of municipal improvement efforts have led to repaved streets, refurbished parks, and cleaner and safer public areas, not to mention a thriving cultural and culinary life.
Planted on the sandy foothills of the Andes, Lima is a rambling metropolis composed of more than 30 municipalities or districts. The city’s historic heart, Lima Centro, lies at a bend on the southern banks of the Río Rímac. Here, around the Plaza de Armas, a grid of crowded streets laid out in the days of Pizarro houses most of the city’s surviving colonial architecture.
From this point, Av Arequipa, one of the city’s principal thoroughfares, plunges southeast … towards well-to-do San Isidro. This is Lima’s banking center and one of its most affluent settlements. San Isidro quickly gives way to the contiguous, seaside neighbourhood of Miraflores, which serves as Lima’s contemporary core, bustling with commerce, restaurants and nightlife.
Immediately to the south lies Barranco, a stately turn-of-the-20th-century resort community. Long the city’s bohemian center, today it boasts some of the most hopping bars in the city. A tony resort back at the turn of the 20th century, Barranco is lined with grand old casonas, many of which have been turned into hotels and eateries. A block west of the main plaza, look for the Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs), a narrow, wooden bridge over an old stone stairway that leads to the beach. The bridge – which is especially popular with young couples on first dates - has inspired many a Peruvian folk song.
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