The Historic Downtown of Lima would transport us back into another time. This is where colonial Spain left its lasting footprint, where the disembodied head of the Spanish Conquistador, Pizarro, rested in the crypt of a Cathedral and where the Liberator of Peru, Simon Bolivar, sick and discouraged resting in the coastal Peruvian town of Pativilca, pulled himself together and freed Peru once and for all from Spain’s grasp.
As I sat in the back of a taxi cab, I gazed out the window, watching pedestrians pass by. The buildings behind them were mostly single-story, bland, and industrial, but that changed as we got closer to downtown.
Handing my camera to Ken, who sat in the front seat, I exclaimed, “Take photos! As many as you can!” Our cab driver didn’t know English, but he was eager to announce points- of- interest along the way when he recognized my enthusiasm. A towering statue of a woman appeared in the middle of a roundabout. Flanking the roundabout was the most colorful buildings I had seen. Violet-blue, they towered over the plaza I would later learn was, the Plaza 2 de Mayo. Built in the 1870s, it commemorated the Battle of Callao, a battle between Spain and the Port city of Callao. On May 2, 1866, the fight ended. The Peruvians were victorious. This battle proved to be the last battle Peru would have with Spain.
Soon elaborate and ornate architecture adorned with motifs, friezes, cherubs, and columns began to appear intermixed with more modern buildings. Roundabouts became more frequent. Designated with statues commemorating historical events, they were pleasant sights with manicured gardens and fountains. Our impromptu excursion through the historic area of Lima was a great way to see again another side of Lima.
We were immersed in Spanish colonial architecture that mixed baroque and neoclassical styles. The Plaza de Armas is a primary destination for most tourists. Here Francisco Pizarro established his settlement, colonizing Peru. The Presidential Palace, the Catedral de Lima, where Pizarro’s body lays at rest, the Monasterio de San Francisco and its catacombs and Iglesia de Santo Domingo surround the plaza. But our attention was at the Gran Hotel de Bolivar. Situated off of San Martin Square, a few blocks away, it stood as imposing as other government buildings nearby.
We were dropped off at the front entrance and made our way into the grand foyer. Named after Simon Bolivar, who in 1805 announced to his teacher and friend, that he would liberate his home country of Venezuela and the rest of South America, the hotel’s goal was to announce to the world that Lima was a sophisticated and wealthy city.
Built in 1924, it proudly reflects items from that era. Ambassadors and other dignitaries lodged here. Celebrities soon followed. The hotel claims that Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner passed by. Eva Gardner and Clark Gable stayed here. Later, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards enjoyed the lofty environs of the hotel.
As we walked around, getting our bearings, we passed a Ford truck displayed inside the hotel. Was it to commemorate the opening of the Hotel? Photos of past glories were showcased in glass cabinets. A stained-glass dome decorated the ceiling of the lobby. Walking down long marble floor hallways, beneath chandeliers and gilded fixtures, past grand arches and columns, and by dining areas decorated with white table cloths, crystal glasses, and fine china, I imagined the aristocratic ambiance that must have resonated there.
We found the Bar famous for its Pisco Sours. Tonight we would celebrate our last night in Lima in Peruvian sophistication.
I found sections of Lima to be as different as the four seasons we experience in North America. Each district had its own charm. I found myself muttering, “so much to see and so little time!” Lima is a city that I would certainly visit again.
Traveling tip to Peru.
“Bolivar” by Marie Arana, a biography of the South American liberator Simon Bolivar, is definitively the best way to get to know the country and how it was shaped. This book is colorful in its descriptions. It imparts the emotions and growing pains that people around the world felt in their quest for freedom and equality during a time when countries were ruled by oppressive and selfish monarchs.