Ayacucho, also known as Huamanga, the principal city (1981 population, 68,535) and capital of the department of the same name (1981 population, 523,821) in south-central highland Peru. Founded by Francisco Pizarro on 9 January 1539 as San Juan de la Frontera, it was moved several miles to its present site on 25 April 1540 by Alonso de Alvarado. It is located about 9,025 feet above sea level on a small plain in an intermountain valley about 224 miles southeast of Lima. During the colonial period Ayacucho became a significant administrative center for the region, a way station on the major route from Lima to Cuzco almost equidistant from both cities, and the residence of miners from neighboring Huancavelica and of local landowners.
On 9 December 1824, the nearby plain of Quinua was the site of the Battle of Ayacucho, which ensured the independence of South America from Spanish control. The city then entered an extended period of decline due to its isolation and limited natural resources, especially water. A railroad intended to link Ayacucho with central Peru and commemorate the centennial of the 1824 battle terminated at Huancavelica. The reopening of the colonial University of San Cristóbal de Huamanga (1677–1886) in 1959 and the completion of an all-weather highway to the coast near Pisco in 1968 revitalized the city. From 1961 to 1972 the population grew from 21,465 to 34,706, but the department remained one of the poorest in the country. In response to the activities of the Shining Path, an insurgent group that originated at Ayacucho in 1980, the city and most of the department were under nearly continuous military control after late 1982. The combination of insurgent activity and military presence contributed to high levels of violence, repression, and forced migration. However, since the late 1990s, with the defeat of most guerrilla forces, there has been much less violence in Ayacucho.
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David Scott Palmer