views updated May 29 2018


Getting There
Getting Around
Public Safety
Health Care
Parks and Recreation
Performing Arts
Libraries and Museums
Holidays and Festivals
Famous Citizens
For Further Study

Lima, Peru, South America

Founded: Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro founded the city in 1535
Location: On southern bank of the Río Rímac (Rimac River), bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the foot of the Andes Mountains on the east, in the coastal zone of central Peru, South America.
Time Zone: Four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Daylight Savings Time is observed from January to April.
Ethnic Composition: 15% white, 37% mestizo (Indian-European mix), 45% indigenous people of Peru, and small numbers of Asians and blacks
Elevation: 154 meters (about 500 feet)
Latitude and Longitude: 12°0'S, 77°2'W
Climate: The cool offshore Peru Current (also known as the Humboldt Current) affects the climate of the city all year long. From April to December, a cool air mass off the Pacific shrouds Lima with garúa, a dense sea mist that blots the sun and rusts exposed metal. During the summer months of January through March, Lima gets more sunshine, but humidity becomes unbearable. Humidity is high for most of the year, remaining well above 60 percent.
Temperature: Winter temperature ranges from 60° to 64°F (16° to 18°C); summer temperature ranges from 70° to 80°F (21° to 27°C).
Average Annual Precipitation: About 2 inches (50 mm) per year. Rain is often the result of condensation of the garúa.
Government: Mayor and district council. As the nation's capital, Lima is home to the President of the Republic and Congress.
Weights and Measures: Metric system
Monetary Units: The Nuevo Sol (about 3.5 soles per US dollar in January 2000). Notes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, and 100 soles. Coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, and 50 centimos, and 1 sol. The US dollar is widely accepted and openly traded.
Telephone Area Codes: 51 (country); 14 (city)

1. Introduction

On its worst days, when the misty air hangs thick with fumes from hundreds of thousands of cars, trucks, and buses, Lima easily earns the moniker of La Horrible, as it is called by many of its citizens. Built to rule vast expanses of South America more than 500 years ago, Lima no longer seems capable of even controlling its own destiny. Most of its seven million people live in poverty, barely scratching a living to feed large families. Cholera outbreaks have been common in the past few years, and the city has been the target of political assassinations, bombings, and state-sponsored terrorism.

Dubbed the City of Kings by its founder, the illiterate Francisco Pizarro (c. 14781541), Lima has struggled to maintain its dignity. It is not a pretty city, despite the tremendous amount of wealth that was originally spent to build it in the middle of a barren coastal desert. Even nature seems to have conspired against Lima. Three major earthquakes have leveled large parts of the city. For most of the year, a thick mist known as garúa envelops the city, slowly rusting away all exposed metal. With less than five centimeters (two inches) of rain a year, there are hardly any trees. The same monotonous barren landscape surrounds the city, stretching to the waters of the Pacific on the west and the rising Andes Mountains to the east.

And yet, Limeños, as citizens of this city are known, are generally hospitable and charitable, even friendly to strangers. Hundreds of thousands of them came to Lima with virtually nothing to their names. Here, they built homes and families, and despite long odds, survived and even prospered. Many Peruvians continue to pour into the city looking for those same opportunities. Perhaps sensing that they have something at stake, the city's leaders have finally begun to rebuild old Lima, scrubbing its old buildings and reclaiming its streets.

2. Getting There


The Pan-American Highway crosses through Lima. Buses take about 24 hours to reach both the Ecuadorian and Chilean borders.

Bus and Railroad Service

Regional buses and trains depart from Lima to all corners of the country. The Central Railway of Peru has the highest standard-gauge railway in the world. From Lima, it climbs the Andes to La Oroya. The city is connected to the port of Callao by the oldest railway line (1851) in South America.

Lima Population Profile

Population: 7,443,000
Area: 3,900 sq km (1,506 sq mi)
Ethnic composition: Approximately 15% white; 37% mestizo (Indian-European mix); 45% indigenous people of Peru; and small numbers of Asians and blacks
World population rank 1: 26
Percentage of national population 2: 29.0%
Average yearly growth rate: 2.2%
Nicknames: The name of the city is a corruption of the Quechua Indian name Rímac, which means "Talker." Many residents informally call the city el pulpo (octopus) for its tremendous size. Its residents are known as Limeños.

  1. The Lima metropolitan area's rank among the world's urban areas.
  2. The percent of Peru's total population living in the Lima metropolitan area.


The Jorge Chávez International Airport is about 13 kilometers (eight miles) from the heart of the city, in the municipal district of Callao. Several airlines, including major U.S. carriers, travel to Lima daily.


Callao, located in the Lima metropolitan area, is home to the nation's most important port. Three floating docks have lifting capacities between 1,724 and 4,082 metric tons (1,900 and 4,500 tons). It also hosts more than 40 workshops for marine and industrial repair work.

3. Getting Around

Bus and Commuter Rail Service

Lima is a megalopolis that is difficult to navigate. The city only has one highway and has not invested in large-scale transportation systems, like underground metro or light rail. There are dozens of bus lines that connect different parts of the city, but buses are often crowded and uncomfortable. Roads are often clogged with traffic.


While in Lima, visitors will want to see the Church and monastery of San Francisco, the Palacio De Gobiernor, San Martin Square, and the Gold Museum of Peru. Other sites rich in Peruvian history and culture include the Rafael Larco Herrera Museum, the National Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, the National Museum of the Republic, the Museum of Peruvian Culture, and the Museum of the Inquisition. Parque Central is a relaxing out-door spot for visitors in the suburb of Miraflores.

4. People

Race and class define Peruvians. Limeños are deeply divided across class lines. About 15 percent of the nation's citizens are white, 37 percent are mestizo (Indian-European mix), and 45 percent are indigenous people of Peru. There are small numbers of Asians and blacks. One notable Asian is President Alberto Fujimori, of Japanese descent. Lima's racial breakdown resembles national characteristics. Nearly 30 percent of the country's 25 million people live in the Lima metropolitan area, which has a density of 2,614 people per square kilometer. Between 1993 and 1998, the city's population grew by 2.1 percent annually. About 43 percent of the population are under the age of 20, and nearly 50 percent are between the ages of 20 and 60. Infant mortality is among the highest in the Americas at 57.5 deaths per 1,000 live births.

In the last decade, more poor Indian immigrants have poured into the city looking for work. Class is directly tied to race. Most wealthy Limeños are white while some of the poorest people in the city are native Peruvians. Most Limeños are Roman Catholic, and many of the city's most important festivals are tied to religious activities.

Spanish and Quechua, the language of the Incas, are the most widely spoken languages among Limeños. Quechua is mostly spoken throughout the Andes and by some people in Lima; however, Spanish is the dominant language. Some migrants to the city speak Aymara, the second most important indigenous language in Peru.

City Fact Comparison
Population of urban area17,443,00010,772,0002,688,00012,033,000
Date the city was founded1535AD 969753 BC723 BC
Daily costs to visit the city2
Hotel (single occupancy)$125$193$172$129
Meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner)$63$56$59$62
Incidentals (laundry, dry cleaning, etc.)$16$14$15$16
Total daily costs$204$173$246$207
Major Newspapers3
Number of newspapers serving the city37132011
Largest newspaperLa Cronica/La Nueva CronicaAkhbar El Yom/Al AkhbarLa RepubblicaRenmin Ribao
Circulation of largest newspaper208,0001,159,339754,9303,000,000
Date largest newspaper was established1912194419761948
1United Nations population estimates for the year 2000.
2The maximum amount the U.S. Government reimburses its employees for business travel. The lodging portion of the allowance is based on the cost for a single room at a moderately-priced hotel. The meal portion is based on the costs of an average breakfast, lunch, and dinner including taxes, service charges, and customary tips. Incidental travel expenses include such things as laundry and dry cleaning.
3David Maddux, ed. Editor&Publisher International Year Book. New York: The Editor&Publisher Company, 1999.

5. Neighborhoods

Lima has been shaped and reshaped by major earthquakes that have nearly leveled the city. The city suffered major earthquakes in 1687, 1746, and 1970. Only a few buildings survived the 1746 earthquake. In more modern times, Lima has experienced relentless growth, with neighborhood communities sprouting almost overnight. From 1940 to 1980, more than two million people moved into the city. But there were no homes for them. They built hundreds of thousands of shantytowns around the original city limits. The dwellings were made from just about any scrap material the squatters could find: cardboard, discarded wood, stones; sheets of tin for the roof were held down by old tires, bricks, and the weight of rocks. The shantytowns came to be known as barriadas, and later as pueblos jovenes, the young towns. In time, many of these young towns received basic services like water and electricity. Concrete or brick replaced the cardboard walls, and the shantytowns became established neighborhoods. Yet, thousands of people who live in some of the poorest shanty-towns only have the thin walls of cardboard to protect them from the elements.

The poor neighborhoods stand in stark contrast with the more affluent neighborhoods of Miraflores and other wealthy suburban neighborhoods along the coast south of Lima's central area. Here, visitors could easily believe that nothing is wrong with Peru. Affluent Peruvians drink coffee and chat with friends at sidewalk cafes; the streets are free of trash; and many buildings are new. Mansions, luxury apartment buildings, and small homes with manicured gardens are found throughout the Miraflores area. Stores offer just about anything that could be bought somewhere else in the world. In many ways, it is a segregated world. Here, the rich seek protection from the masses.

As Lima grew, the heart of the city was practically abandoned. At one time, central Lima was a prestigious address, with splendid mansions and imposing government buildings and churches. Colonial Lima was built with Peru's own gold and silver, and no efforts were spared for the "City of Kings." Today, little of that splendor remains. In a slow process, the government is trying to recover the heart of the city and make it more than just a passing point for Limeños.

6. History

The Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro (c.14781541) arrived in what is now Peru under propitious circumstances. The flourishing Inca Empire, which dominated an area that extended from Quito in present-day Ecuador to central Chile (4,023 kilometers/2,500 miles in length and 805 kilometers/500 miles wide) had been weakened by internal conflict. The half-brothers Huáscar and Atahualpa had waged a bitter struggle for the throne. When Pizarro arrived in Peru accompanied by 180 heavily armed men and 30 horses in l531, Atahualpa had gained the upper hand and ruled the empire, one of the most developed in pre-Columbian times in the Americas.

On November 15, 1532, Pizarro arrived in Cajamarca, Atahualpa's summer residence in the northern highlands of Peru. The next day, Pizarro took Atahualpa hostage. The Incas had never seen horses or experienced the wrath of modern weapons. With the element of surprise on their side, the Spanish shattered Inca resistance. While they would continue to resist the Spaniards for many years, the Incas never recovered from that first battle.

After taking Cuzco in southern Peru, Pizarro began to consolidate his empire. In the arid coastal region, where people had been living for thousands of years, he founded the city of Lima on January 6, 1535. Because it was the day of the Epiphany (Christian holiday commemorating both the revealing of Jesus as the Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi and the baptism of Jesus), he named it the "City of Kings," but the name never stuck. The city was in a convenient place, adjacent to a major river that provided plenty of fresh water and only a few kilometers from the Pacific Coast, where the Spaniards would develop the Port of Callao. The port became a major point of transfer of wealth generated in South America. Pizarro never got to enjoy the wealth he had stolen from the Incas. Nor did he spend much time in his new city. The greedy conquistadors began to fight among themselves. Pizarro and Diego de Almagro (14751538), a former partner in the conquest, went to war. Almagro was captured and executed, and Pizarro was murdered in his Lima palace in 1541.

The kingdom of Spain designated Lima the Viceroyalty of Peru in 1542, but several years would go by before it could reassert its authority. From here, the Spaniards ruled vast areas of South America. For the next three centuries, Lima boomed as the center of government, commerce, and culture. It was the seat of the audiencia, the high court, and the headquarters for the Inquisition. The monarchs, through their delegates, and the Catholic Church were firmly in control. For most of its colonial history, Lima was a small and conservative town, confined within its protective walls. An earthquake devastated Lima in 1746. Yet, with the wealth generated by thousands of indigenous people who mined for silver and gold under horrible work conditions, the Spanish rebuilt the city with more exquisite architecture.

By the early 1800s, Lima was losing its influence. As other regions grew in importance, their residents began to resent Spain's rule and rigid trade regulations, which forced all trade to go through the port of Callao. Goods from Buenos Aires traveled over vast distances by land to get to Lima, where they were shipped to Panama, and then transferred to ships going to Spain. Santiago, in present-day Chile, and Buenos Aires were developing societies quite distinct from Lima. It was only a matter of time before they would seek their independence.

When Napoleon Bonaparte's (17691821; French general) forces invaded Spain in 1808, the Spanish colonies in the Americas took advantage of the favorable political turn and sought independence. Conservative Lima remained loyal to Spain, but its subordinate regions did not. Unlike other parts of South America, insurrection in Peru did not come from within its borders. In 1821, the Argentinean General Jóse de San Martín invaded Lima and forced the city's royalist troops to retreat into the mountains. The other great South American liberator, Simón Bolívar, moved in from the north to finish the job. Peru became the last mainland colony to declare its independence in July 1821. Lima later became the capital city of Peru. While it would continue to grow, it never attained the power and wealth it enjoyed during its colonial era. In the War of the Pacific (187983), Limeños endured another invasion, this time by Chilean soldiers who occupied the city for two years. The Peruvian government was forced into the highlands and was allowed to return only after signing a treaty favorable to Chile.

Like many other cities, the development of modern Lima is traced to the construction of railroads and roads that made it easier for people to move around the growing capital. The first train line between Lima and Callao was built in 1851. Other lines going south followed, allowing the more wealthy Limeños to move along the coast. Here, they built the wealthier communities of Miraflores and Barranco. The new roads also made it easier for people from the highlands to move to the city for work. After World War II (193945), thousands of Peruvians were moving into the city each year, leading to the construction of shantytowns throughout the city. By the 1980s, Lima mirrored the nation's massive social problems. Crushing poverty, and injustice opened the way to several leftist guerrilla movements, chief among them Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), and Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). While most guerilla activity took place well beyond Lima, the city was the target of assassinations, bombings, and state-sponsored violence. In 1996, the MRTA shocked the world by taking over the Japanese ambassador's residence, along with 72 hostages. Government troops liberated the hostages and killed all the guerrilla members in April 1997. While Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori has declared victory against the guerrillas, he has done little for the country's poor. Lima has become the center of constant protests against the government.

7. Government

The provinces of Lima and Callao, each with its own government, make up the Lima metropolitan area. There are 45 municipal districts, including the capital district of Lima, within the metropolitan area. Each district is administratively autonomous, with a mayor and city council. Each district generates revenues, such as property taxes, to provide services to its citizens. The arrangement has created huge inequalities in the metropolitan area. Wealthy neighborhoods like Miraflores provide relatively good services to its citizens. But some of the pueblos jovenes (young towns) cannot even raise enough revenue to provide bare necessities, like paved roads and water.

The unwieldy arrangement makes regional planning difficult. Any action requires negotiated decisions among districts. A Metropolitan Council for Greater Lima, made up of district mayors, was supposed to facilitate regional cooperation. But local districts do not want to give up their autonomy. Leaders have called for greater intervention from the national government, but that is unlikely.

8. Public Safety

Violent crimes that include carjackings, assault, and armed robbery are common in Lima. Sometimes, people are kidnapped and forced to withdraw money from automatic teller machines before they are released. Thieves posing as taxi drivers prey on passengers, often in stolen vehicles. To curb crime, the government authorized military court trials for kidnappers and armed gang members in 1998. Tourists are particularly vulnerable. The theft of luggage and travel documents, including passports, is common at the international airport.

Peru's human rights record has improved, with a sharp decrease in the numbers of political disappearances and extra-judicial killings by government forces. Yet, international human rights groups continue to monitor the delicate political situation in Peru. The U.S. government remained concerned about reports of torture, arbitrary detentions, lack of due process, and Peru's reluctance to punish government and military officials accused of abuses. In June of 1999, members of the U.S. House of Representatives said they were concerned at the "erosion of democracy and the rule of law" in Peru.

9. Economy

Lima is the leading industrial, financial, and retail center in the nation. With nearly 30 percent of the country's population, the city dictates the national economy and accounts for more than two-thirds of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP). Most of the country's imports and exports pass through the port of Callao. Almost all of the country's heavy industry is located in and around Lima. Despite its economic importance, Lima is not flushed with jobs. The national government has been a traditional leading employer, but the privatization of state companies left thousands of people out of work during the mid-1990s. The city suffers from severe unemployment and underemployment, and many people who work just barely manage to feed their families. Lima's economy grew rapidly during the mid 1990s, but a severe two-year recession that started in 1997 left one out of two Peruvians living in poverty.

10. Environment

Lima is a grimy, noisy, and polluted city. The garúa doesn't help. The mist and low clouds trap pollution, and Limeños often can taste the fumes in the air. The city's infrastructure has been overwhelmed by the rapid growth. Hundreds of thousands of people don't have access to basic services like electricity, water, and adequate sanitation. Wastewater goes straight into the Pacific without treatment. Cholera epidemics have been common in Lima for several years. While the government has identified pollution as one of its national priorities, it lacks the money for any major fixes in the foreseeable future.

11. Shopping

Lima is not known for its shopping scene. The city's wealthier neighborhoods and districts have the same types of stores found in the United States, including modern shopping malls.

12. Education

Most children attend school in Lima, but illiteracy rates have remained high. About 52 percent of students are in primary schools, and 33 percent attend secondary schools. Lima is home to some fine universities, including the National University of San Marcos, the oldest university in the Americas (1551), La Molina National Agrarian University, and the National Engineering University. The city has several private universities. Among them are the University of Lima, Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, Ricardo Palma University, University of San Martín de Porres, Women's University of the Sacred Heart, and University of the Pacific. A university degree remains out of reach for most young Limeños.

13. Health Care

Health is a matter of class. Wealth-ier residents can afford good health care, and many of them often travel abroad for treatment. Millions of Limeños have little access to health care. There are 119 hospitals in the metropolitan area, with 2.7 physicians per 1,000 residents. Unhealthy conditions have led to cholera outbreaks. Tuberculosis is common among the poorest Limeños.

14. Media

Under the Fujimori regime, freedom of the press has been curtailed. The U.S. State Department in 1999 concluded the Peruvian government infringed on press freedom by harassing and intimidating journalists. Several international journalism organizations have condemned Fujimori's systematic attacks on the press.

Despite government pressure, several newspapers in Lima continue to report government misdeeds. The city is home to the nation's most influential newspapers, including El Comercio, La República, and Gestion. Twenty-five newspapers, including ten dailies, are published in Lima. El Comercio is considered one of the best newspapers in Latin America and has often taken a critical view of the Fujimori regime. The city also has a lively, but untrustworthy, tabloid press that caters to lower-income residents. Caretas, a weekly newsmagazine, is widely respected and read. El Peruano is the official newspaper of record. Lima has eight non-cable television channels, including the government-owned channel seven, and cable television, which is out of the reach of most poor Limeños. Prices for cable television are comparable to those in the United States. Radio remains an important medium of communication.

15. Sports

Soccer (futból) is by far the most popular sport in Lima. Professional teams are closely followed by Limeños, especially the home teams of Alianza Lima and Universitaria. The game transcends class, and neighborhood matches are found in just about any available open space.

16. Parks and Recreation

Lima is not conducive to outdoor activities. While the suburb of Miraflores does host Parque Central, Lima generally has few parks or open spaces. The beaches off the coast are very popular and often crowded, but the coastline is heavily polluted by untreated sewage that flows untreated from the large megalopolis. Despite health warnings, many people still surf and play in the water.

17. Performing Arts

The symphony plays at the Lima's municipal theater, which also hosts ballet, opera, and theater performances. The city also has many peñas, nightclubs that feature folk music.

18. Libraries and Museums

The library of the church and monastery of San Francisco is renowned for its collection of historical documents, including antique texts that date to the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru. The city has many museums. Among them is the Gold Museum of Peru, which has a large collection of pre-Columbian gold pieces. The Rafael Larco Herrera Museum has a large collection of pre-Columbian pottery, textiles, gold pieces, and many other items of historical importance. The National Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology traces the pre-history of the country through the arrival of the Spaniards. The city has several art and history museums. They include the National Museum of the Republic, the Museum of Peruvian Culture, and the Museum of the Inquisition.

19. Tourism

While Peru's social problems have hampered tourism, thousands of people still come to this fascinating South American country. Lima is an important port of call. In 1998, 819,530 visitors from other nations came to Peru, and about 483,000 of them stopped in Lima. The average visitor to Peru stays 13.5 days, and spends about $1,100. In 1998, tourists spent more than $900 million.

20. Holidays and Festivals

New Year's Day

Independence Day

Lord of the Earthquakes

21. Famous Citizens

Saint Martin de Porres (15791639), Peruvian Dominican friar, canonized in 1962 by Pope John XXIII.

Saint Rose of Lima (15861617), Roman Catholic nun, canonized by Pope Clement X in 1671, the first native-born saint of the Americas.

Javier Pérez de Cuellar (b. 1920), Peruvian diplomat and fifth secretary general of the United Nations (19821991), negotiated an end to the Iran-Iraq war (198088) and ran unsuccessfully for the presidency of Peru in 1995.

Alberto Fujimori (b. 1938), of Japanese descent, became President of Peru in 1990.

Francisco Pizarro (14761541), Spaniard who defeated the Incas and founded Lima.

Meredith Monk (b. 1942), born in Lima, raised in Connecticut, she is known for her pioneering multimedia performance pieces.

Isabel Allende (b. 1942), born in Lima, the daughter of a diplomat, she is one of the most successful female Latin American writers, renowned worldwide.

22. For Further Study


University of Texas' Latin American Network Information Center. [Online] Available (accessed February 1, 2000).

Peru's Chamber of Commerce. [Online] Available (accessed February 1, 2000).

Peru's National Institute of Statistics and Information. [Online] Available (accessed February 1, 2000).

Government Offices

Peruvian Embassy
1700 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
Washington D.C. 20008

Tourist and Convention Bureaus

Camara Nacional del Turismo
Santander 170, Lima 18, Peru
[Online] Available (accessed February 1, 2000).


La Republica. [Online] Available (accessed February 1, 2000).

El Comercio. [Online] Available (accessed February 1, 2000).

Gestion. [Online] Available (accessed February 1, 2000).


Andrien, Kenneth J. Crisis and Decline: The Vice-royalty of Peru in the Seventeenth Century. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985.

Cameron, Ian. The Kingdom of the Sun God: A History of the Andes and Their People. New York: Facts on File, 1990.

Dietz, Henry A. Poverty and Problem-Solving under Military Rule: The Urban Poor in Lima, Peru. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980.

Lobo, Susan. A House of My Own: Social Organization in the Squatter Settlements of Lima, Peru. Tempe: University of Arizona Press, 1982.

Starn, Orin, Robin Kirk, & Carlos I. Degregori (eds). The Peru Reader. Duke University Press, 1995.

Stern, Steve J . Peru's Indian Peoples and the Challenge of Spanish Conquest. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999.

Wachtel, Nathan. The Vision of the Vanquished: The Spanish Conquest of Peru Through Indian Eyes. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1977.


views updated May 29 2018


LIMA. Lima, the capital city of the Viceroyalty of Peru in early modern times, lies on the southern bank of the Rímac River, west of the Andes Mountains, and eight miles inland from the western coast of South America. Conquistador Francisco Pizarro founded the city on 18 January 1535 following the Spanish defeat of the native Incan empire. Possibly to account for Lima's title as "The City of the Kings," some scholars claim that the founding date was 6 January 1535, the Catholic celebration of Epiphany, when the Magi are believed to have visited the Christ child. Pizarro chose Lima, a Spanish misunderstanding for the native word Rímac, over the Incan capital of Cuzco, which was further inland and nestled in the Andean highlands, because Lima had a milder climate and was better located in terms of ocean access and defense.

Symbolic of Spanish dominance and bureaucratic opulence, the city quickly became the crown's administrative, ecclesiastical, and economic hub in South America. The crown-appointed viceroy, whose short tenure was designed to preserve Spanish control from across the ocean, sat atop a highly structured and hierarchical regional government. Like other Spanish American cities, Lima was laid out in a grid design of east-west and north-south streets organized around a central plaza, a form later codified in the Laws of the Indies. As the capital city of Spanish holdings in South America, Lima was the first American city in which the Inquisition was established and the region's principal treasury office. Lima was also the conduit, via the nearby port city of Callao, for all incoming and outgoing trade with Europe. Most important were the precious metals that were mined and produced by Spanish-controlled Indian labor in the viceroyaltymost notably the silver mines at Potosí. Peru's silver mines were central to the European economy until the ore became depleted and a fiscal crisis seized Europe and Spanish America in the late seventeenth century. Lima did not recover from this decline until the eighteenth century, when Spain's new Bourbon rulers sought to streamline government and improve the colony's and the crown's economic positions. Despite Bourbon reforms, Lima's importance outside of Peru waned after this period.

The city's population increased only slowly, restrained in part by frequent and recurring earthquakes (most notably those in 1687 and 1746). Whereas in 1613 there were a little over 25,000 inhabitants, it took almost two centuries for that to double to almost 53,000 people (1796). As with other Spanish colonies, Lima's population at the time of the conquest was composed of a few Spaniards and numerous natives. Over time the populace became increasingly mixed as more Spaniards and other Europeans arrived, the indigenous population declined, and slaves were brought in from Africa. At least in theory, Lima's social structure was as ordered as the city's administration, with legal and geographical divisions among classes and ethnicities. Nevertheless, cultural and sexual exchange among the city's residents, the steady influx of exotic goods, and the continual influence of people and ideas arriving on visiting ships ensured that Lima would become a culturally diverse center for the viceroyalty.

See also Pizarro Brothers ; Spanish Colonies: Peru .


Andrien, Kenneth J. Crisis and Decline: The Viceroyalty of Peru in the Seventeenth Century. Albuquerque, N.M., 1985.

Bromley, Juan. La Fundacion de la Ciudad de los Reyes. Lima, 1935.

Dobyns, Henry F., and Paul L. Doughty. Peru: A Cultural History. Latin American Histories. New York, 1976.

Klarén, Peter Flindell. Peru: Society and Nationhood in the Andes. Latin American Histories. New York, 2000.

Lockhart, James. Spanish Peru, 15321560: A Colonial Society. Madison, Wis., 1968.

Montero, Maria Antonia Durán. Lima en el Siglo XVII: Arquitectura, Urbanismo y vida Cotidiana. Sección Historia "Nuestra América" 1. Seville, 1994.

Oliver-Smith, Anthony. "Lima, Peru: Underdevelopment and Vulnerability to Hazards in the City of the Kings." In Crucibles of Hazard: Mega-Cities and Disasters in Transition. Edited by James K. Mitchell. Tokyo, 1999.

Jamie Stephenson


views updated May 11 2018


On January 18, 1535, the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro (ca. 1475–1541) founded La Ciudad de Los Reyes (The City of the Kings), or Lima, in the Rímac Valley, six miles inland from what would become the port of Callao. The valley had been part of Pachacamac, a precolonial Andean religious center. In contrast to Mexico, where the Spanish established and built their colonial capital upon the ruins of the imperial center of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlán, Lima was located far from the Andean Inca capital of Cuzco. Pizarro wanted a city and political center on the Pacific and conveniently connected to the sea routes to Panama, Cuba, and Spain.

In 1542 Lima was made the capital of the viceroyalty of Peru, in effect, the imperial political center of all of Spanish South America. From that year until the end of Spanish rule, forty-two viceroys resided in Lima in the Palace of the Viceroys, located on the north side of the Plaza de Armas. In the early twentieth century, this rundown colonial palace was reconstructed as the more stately, neocolonial Palacio de Gobierno, which became the residence of the president of the republic.

Pizarro set the first stone of Lima's cathedral on top of the Puma Inti Temple. "Pizarro ordered Juan Tello to distribute the plots in the order they were designed in the plan," wrote the Spanish soldier and historian Pedro de Cieza de León (ca. 1518–1560). "And they say that Juan Tello, who was knowledgeable in this, remarked that this land would be another Italy and in trade a second Venice because with such a quantity of gold and silver it was impossible for it to be otherwise" (1550/1998, p. 357). Lima, like all Spanish American cities, had been laid out according to a rational grid system inspired by Renaissance thinking on town planning. At the center of the city was a public square, the Plaza de Armas, with eight streets running outward from the corners of the square (and one additional street extending from the southern side of the plaza). Around the square were located the cathedral, the viceregal palace, and the houses of the municipal government. Proximity to the Plaza de Armas indicated the social prestige of the families who lived in fine houses of two stories. The orderliness of the city demonstrated the Spanish attempt to impose rational European structures upon a wild and natural America. In the early seventeenth century, Garcilaso de la Vega (1539–1616) commented, "The city was beautifully laid out, with a very large square, unless it be a fault that it is too big. The streets are broad and so straight that the country can be seen in four directions from any of the crossroads" (1617/1966, p. 776).

In 1593 Lima had a population of about 13,000 people. By 1614 the population had grown to over 25,000. Africans comprised the largest single group with 10,386, and with the addition of mulattos, the people the Spaniards called negros and pardos, exceeded 11,000. The next largest population group in the city was Spaniards, both American-born criollos and peninsular-born chapetónes, at 9,616. There were 1,978 native Andeans and only 192 mestizos (mixed Spanish-Indian offspring). The small number of mestizos suggests that many sons and daughters of mixed unions lived (and were therefore counted) as Indians or passed as Spaniards. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, there were more than 36,000 limeños (residents of Lima). By this time, Spaniards were in the majority with 56 percent of the population; Africans and mulattos made up 32 percent; and natives and mestizos constituted only 12 percent.

Compared to Mexico City, Lima was a small city but no less rich or monumental. In the mid-sixteenth century, the Spaniards had discovered the mountain of Potosí, the world's largest deposit of silver, which was controlled from Lima. Merchants, agriculturalists, and miners like Antonio López de Quiroga, acting as a business agent for others or on his own account, brought great sums of money to Lima. The Spanish historian Bernabé Cobo (1580–1657), in his mid-seventeenth-century Historia de la fundación de Lima, wrote of the "trade, splendour, and wealth" of the city. "The commerce and bustle which is always to be seen in this square is very great," wrote Cobo, referring to the Plaza de Armas. "The things to be found in this market are all that a well provisioned republic can desire for its sustenance and comfort" (quoted in Higgins 2005, p. 37). There were in Lima in the seventeenth century fifteen or so mayorazgos (entailed estates) with incomes of 300,000 to 400,000 ducats yearly, but that was exceeded by the total income that flowed annually in salaries to ecclesiastics, royal officials, and military officers. The city's wealth was displayed in churches, houses, luxurious coaches, jewelry and gold and silver plate, tapestries, silks, brocades, fine linens, articles of worship, and African slaves.

The most impressive aspect of Lima in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was the size and splendor of its religious establishment. A contemporary report in 1613 stated that there were more than 400 secular priests, about 900 friars, and 1,366 nuns. They worked and lived in nineteen churches, monasteries, and nunneries. One in ten of Lima's inhabitants were clerics. Besides the cathedral and the palace of the archbishop, there were parish churches, monasteries, convents, the house and jail of the Inquisition, separate hospitals for Spaniards and Indians, a hospital for sailors, a house for orphans and another for abandoned women, a doctrinal school for Indians, and schools and colleges.

The church and monastery of San Francisco, with its beautiful twin towers, conventual buildings, and grounds, constituted a city within the city of Lima. It housed more than two hundred monks, with an additional large staff and numerous African slaves in its prime. The convent of the Nuns of the Incarnation housed more than four hundred religious women. "Many of the rich nobles' daughters came to learn good manners, and they leave to marry," wrote Pedro de León Portocarrero in the early seventeenth century. "In this convent there are splendid and intelligent women, endowed with a thousand graces, and all of them, both nuns and lay women, have Black women slaves to serve them" (quoted in Mills and Taylor 1998, p. 170).

Lima was also a city of manufactures and commerce. Artisans and merchants tended to concentrate on particular streets according to specialization. There was the street of the silversmiths, the hatters' ally, the street of the mantas (cloaks), and the main one, Merchants' Street, which had at least forty shops. Many observers described Lima as a city overflowing in wealth. "I am astonished at what they tell me about Castile," noted a resident of Lima in 1590, "that it is finished, and I believe it from what people say here. Here we go neither hungry nor thirsty, nor do we lack for clothing." Another Lima resident writing home to Spain was upset by the news of "the hardship that you suffer in Spain. Since we want for nothing over here, we can hardly believe it" (Kamen 2003, pp. 309-310).

Late colonial Lima was not the great city it had been during its seventeenth-century "silver age." Devastating earthquakes, particularly in 1655, 1687, and 1746, severely damaged the city. The quake of 1746 killed some 6,000 residents and brought down most of the important buildings in the city. After these earthquakes, and the great quake of 1940, few genuine "colonial" buildings remain in Lima.

In 1739 Spain established the new viceroyalty of New Granada (with the viceregal capital of Bogotá and in 1776 the viceroyalty of La Plata (with the viceregal capital of Buenos Aires). This redesign of the political map of Spanish South America not only reduced the prestige and power of Lima but also broke its near commercial monopoly. Goods no longer had to be imported at Callao and Lima and transported by mule train up and down the Andes as far as the port city of Buenos Aires.

By 1812 the population of Lima was close to 64,000. About 18,000 were Spaniards. Spaniards were always a minority in their colonial capital. In this late colonial year, the large majority of limeños were African slaves and free blacks and mulattos—over 30,000 people. There were slightly more than 10,000 Indians living in the city and almost 5,000 mestizos.

During the wars of independence in the years leading up to 1821, Lima quartered the royalist army of some 70,000 men. Despite this occupation, Lima's Creoles demonstrated little interest in revolution and independence. Creole fear of African slaves, blacks and mulattos, and Indians and mestizos—the exploited and subordinated majority—produced a very cautious and conservative local elite. In 1821 when Lima, and Peru, was liberated from Spanish rule and the republic was established, it was the result of the invasion of Peru by a revolutionary general from Argentina, José de San Martín (1778–1850).

see also Inca Empire; Lima; Mining, the Americas; Pizarro, Francisco; Túpac Amaru, Rebellion of.


Cieza de León, Pedro de. The Discovery and Conquest of Peru: Chronicles of the New World Encounter (1550). Edited and translated by Alexandra Parma Cook and Noble David Cook. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998.

de la Vega, Garcilaso. Royal Commentaries of the Incas and General History of Peru (1609/1617). Translated by Harold V. Livermore. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1966.

Doering, Juan Gunther, and Guillermo Lohmann Villena. Lima. Madrid: Editorial MAPFRE, 1992.

Higgins, James. Lima: A Cultural History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Kamen, Henry. Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492–1763. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.

Mills, Kenneth, and William B. Taylor, eds. "Pedro de León Portocarrero's Description of Lima, Peru." In Colonial Spanish America: A Documentary History, 165-175. Wilmington, DE: SR Books, 1998.


views updated Jun 08 2018


Lima, capital city of Peru, a large metropolitan area with a population of 7.75 million (2005); also a province and department of the same name. Like other Latin American megalopolises, Lima's size continues to increase as people move from the interior provinces seeking better economic opportunities. Lima is by far the most important industrial, commercial, banking, and political center of the country. It is situated in the central coastal region and connected with the rest of the country by a network of highways, including the longitudinal coastal Pan-American Highway and the Central Highway, which reaches the central highlands. On the Pacific Ocean coast, the port of Callao was once separated from Lima by a few miles but now is part of a continuous urban sprawl. This area, known as the Metropolitan Area of Lima and Callao (AMLC), has a population of 8.2 million (2007), more than one-fourth of Peru's total population. In 1995 the area produced 44 percent of Peru's gross domestic product, illustrating its economic, financial, and industrial primacy.

Lima extends from and beyond the Rímac River valley, a narrow fringe of dwindling agricultural land similar to other valleys (Huara, Chancay, Chillón, Mala, Cañete) in the department that sporadically interrupt the vast coastal desert. These valleys were among the most productive sugar and cotton areas up to the 1920s, when the decline of export prices and growing real estate developments helped drastically reduce the arable land. Although situated in a tropical region, Lima has a humid and mildly cold climate during the months of April to November because of cloud cover from the effects of the cold Humboldt current off the coast. During the summer months of December to March, the weather is sunny and hot.

Before the arrival of the Spaniards, the valley of Lima was under the influence of the important religious center of Pachacámac. This god was accepted by Inca rulers and worshipped as the one responsible for the periodic earthquakes. For defensive reasons Francisco Pizarro abandoned his initial plan to make the central highland town of Jauja the political center of the conquered Incan territory. He decided instead to establish the future administrative center of the Viceroyalty of Peru in the valley of Lima. Thus Ciudad de los Reyes (City of the Kings), as Lima was known in early colonial times, was founded on 18 January 1535.

Under Spanish colonial rule, Lima consisted of well-protected squared blocks of dwellings at the center of which was the Plaza de Armas, the square bordered by the government and municipal palaces and Lima's cathedral, as well as the most notable families' houses. This core, characterized by one-and two-story houses of distinct colonial architecture, Moorish balconies, and ornate baroque and rococo churches, is today known as the downtown area of Old Lima. In one of the city's old sections, Pachacamilla, the syncretic and popular religious cult of the Señor de los Milagros (Lord of Miracles), invoked for protection against earthquakes (the most destructive of which occurred in 1630, 1687, 1746, 1941, and 1970), began initially among the urban slaves of the owner of the Pachacamac estate just south of Lima.

Lima's old boundaries were modified by the mid-nineteenth century, when Henry Meiggs was contracted to demolish the remnants of the old colonial wall surrounding Lima. At the time, Lima, Callao, and the port of Pisco south of Lima were the main beneficiaries of the income produced by the booming export of guano, a fertilizer deposited on islands off the central coast by seabirds. Beyond the post-Independence political struggle that made Lima the target of conspiracies and coups by military chieftains, a rising civilian economic and social elite built new houses and summer ranches in Lima, Miraflores, and Chorrillos. However, by the end of the War of the Pacific and the Chilean occupation of the city (1881–1883), Lima's urban development was in decline.

Starting in the first two decades of the twentieth century, and especially in the 1920s, Lima's real estate boom began in earnest. New avenues and streets raised the price of land in and around Lima. New neighborhoods funded by profitable financial institutions extended considerably the urban area. A process of gradual industrialization, a growing urban market, and a rise in commercial and other services since the 1890s provided jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities. By the 1950s, however, the first slums appeared on Lima's outskirts, the result of a housing shortage as the massive immigration from the interior provinces steadily increased. By the 1970s, Lima was surrounded by an impressive and populous ring of slums, which by the 1990s contained almost a third of the city's population. In these vast and precarious concentrations, called pueblos jóvenes, or "young towns," inhabitants seek better urban services. Some have been successful. Through organization, residents of older settlements such as Villa El Salvador and Comas obtained not only basic city services, but also legal standing. The city's growth rate began to slow in the 1970s.

As a political and cultural center, Lima is the head of the government and the judicial system and is home to several universities, among them the oldest in the Americas, San Marcos University. It is a city that has inspired the witty anecdotes of Ricardo Palma, the tragicomic short stories of writer Julio Ramón Riveiro, and the skeptical novels by Mario Vargas Llosa. The main financial center of Peru, Lima possesses disproportionate financial and economic resources as a result of the unequal distribution of wealth and income in Peru. Since Peru's return to democracy, which was consolidated in 2001, Lima's voting population has been decisive. The city continues to grapple with growth and administration of water, electricity, and sewage, and the municipalities of Lima and Callao still struggle with systematic problems in urban transportation. Despite the extended poverty and obvious corruption in the Peruvian capital, people in Lima can enjoy a wide variety and richness of food and folklore representing a blend of ethnic origins.

See alsoPachacamac .


José Barbagelata and Juan Bromley, Evolución urbana de Lima (1945).

David Collier, Squatters and Oligarchs: Authoritarian Rule and Policy Change in Peru (1976).

Alberto Flores Galindo, Aristocracía y plebe: Lima, 1760–1830 (1984).

María Rostoworowski, Pachacámac y el Señor de los Milagros (1992).

Alfonso Quiroz, Domestic and Foreign Finance in Modern Peru, 1850–1950: Financing Visions of Development (1993).

Additional Bibliography

Charney, Paul. Indian Society in the Valley of Lima, Peru, 1532–1824. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2001.

Dietz, Henry A. Urban Poverty, Political Participation, and the State: Lima, 1970–1990. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998.

Higgins, James. Lima: A Cultural History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Jaime, Joseph A. La ciudad, la crisis y las salidas: Democracia y desarrollo en espacios urbanos meso. Lima: Alternativa Centro de Investigación Social y Educación Popular, 2005.

Jouve Martín, José Ramón. Esclavos de la ciudad letrada: Esclavitud, escritura y colonialismo en Lima (1650–1700). Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2005.

Ludeña Urquizo, Wiley. Piqueras, Belaúnde, la Agrupación Espacio: Tres buenos tigres: Vanguardia y urbanismo en el Perú del siglo XX. Lima: Urbes, 2004.

Mills, Kenneth. Idolatry and Its Enemies: Colonial Andean Religion and Extirpation, 1640–1750. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.

Pérez-Mallaína Bueno, Pablo Emilio. Retrato de una ciudad en crisis: La sociedad limeña ante el movimiento sísmico de 1746. Seville, Spain: Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos, 2001.

Sifuentes de la Cruz, Luis Enrique. Las murallas de Lima en el proceso histórico del Perú: Ensayo acerca de la historia y evolución urbana de la ciudad de Lima entre los siglos XVII y XIX. Lima: Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, 2004.

Van Deusen, Nancy E. Between the Sacred and the Worldly: The Institutional and Cultural Practice of Recogimiento in Colonial Lima. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.

                                    Alfonso W. Quiroz


views updated May 17 2018


LIMA , ancient capital of the Peruvian viceroyalty and capital of *Peru; population more than 8,866,160 (2005). Ninety-eight percent of Peru's Jewish population of about 2,700 live in the city. The discovery of Peru and its enormous mining potential attracted a large number of *Conversos who disregarded the restrictions on the immigration of New Christians and arrived in the capital founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535. Most of them arrived during the period of unification of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns (1580–1640), and were known as "Portuguese." On February 7, 1569, Philip II, king of Spain, decreed the royal document by which he ordered the establishment of the Inquisition in Lima that was to start the persecution of judaizers and descendants of Jews.

Until 1595, however, the number of victims was very small, and the Crypto-Jews could prosper especially in the import and export trade. The first auto-da-fé took place in Lima on December 17, 1595. Ten Judaizers were judged, four of them were released, and one, Francisco Rodríguez, was burned alive. On December 10, 1600, 14 judaizers were punished; on March 13, 1605, 16 judaizers; later the frequency and the numbers declined.

The general pardon for all the judaizers declared in 1601 attracted a considerable number of New Christians, most of whom were Crypto-Jews who had acquired an important position in the economic life of the Spanish colony. Therefore the sensational trials against judaizers were generally conducted against those who had accumulated a fortune, all their possessions being confiscated by the Holy Office after their condemnation. This was the case with Antonio Cordero, the local representative of a merchant from Sevilla, who was denounced by a local trader for having declined to sell on the Sabbath and having refused to eat pork. A secret investigation was conducted, accompanied by torture, which led to the great auto-da-fé of January 23, 1639 with 60 judaizers. The most famous among them was Francisco Maldonado de Silva, who remained in prison for 12 years, during which he maintained his loyalty to the Jewish faith and even converted two Catholic prisoners to Judaism. All the rest were members of what the Spanish authorities called "The Great Conspiracy" congregation of Crypto-Jews in Lima. The last victim of La Complicidad Grande was Manuel Enríquez, who was burned at the stake in 1664 together with the effigy of Murcia de Luna, who died at torture. This exemplary display of severity, together with the menace of total expulsion in 1646, from which they were able to free themselves through the payment of the fabulous sum of 200,000 ducats, curtailed the offense of judaizing for many years. According to unsubstantiated sources there were 6,000 Crypto-Jews in Peru.

The last victims of the accusations against judaizers were Ana de Castro, on December, 23, 1736, and Juan Antonio Pereira, on November 11, 1737. The last activities of the Inquisition in Lima were in 1806. At that time there were no remaining Crypto-Jews recognized as such. A very famous family of Crypto-Jews during the colonial period was that of "León Pinelo."

The León Pinelo Family

During the period of the Viceroyalty this family flourished, being gifted with exceptional intellectual qualities that were manifested in a variety of activities in Spain, Peru, and Mexico, whether in the legal profession, theology, or various branches of knowledge. The León Pinelo school in Lima is named after the brothers Juan, Antonio, and Diego, children of Captain Diego López de León and Catalina de Esperanza Pinelo, distant relatives of the Pinelli of Genoa.

Juan López, the grandfather of the brothers León Pinelo, was a Portuguese Jewish merchant who, together with his wife, was burned alive in Lisbon in 1595. The survivors of the family immigrated to Valladolid, where they remained while Diego, the father, moved to Buenos Aires in search of a better situation. When his position was stabilized thanks to his commercial activities, he managed to reunite the family in 1605.

Juan, the first son of Diego López de León, was born in Lisbon (Portugal). He studied in Chuquisaca (Bolivia). He moved to Lima with his father and brother Antonio. Juan distinguished himself as an orator in the court of Philip iv, and was named canon of the Cathedral of Puebla (New Spain), where he ended his life. The second son, Antonio de León Pinelo, was born in Valladolid in 1590. He studied in the Universidad de San Marcos (in Lima). He was mayor of the Oruro mines, and in 1621 he returned to Spain as the attorney of the city of Buenos Aires. In Madrid he established himself in the court, amazing everyone with his erudition. He was known as "the Oracle of America" for the vastness of his knowledge in matters concerning the Indies, particularly South America. He is credited with having established the basis, together with the judge Solórzano Pereira, of the famous collection of laws that was issued by the Spanish Crown for the government and administration of the colonies in the New World and printed in four volumes under the title Recopilación de las Leyes de las India (Collection of the Laws of the Indies). The idea of the collection of laws developed in Lima, when both León Pinelo and Solórzano Pereira cemented their friendship during a period when the former was endowed with a chair at the Universidad de San Marcos. Antonio de León Pinelo gained fame for being the first bibliographer to teach works published about America. He was a friend of Lope de Vega, Ruiz de Alarcón, and other well-known Spanish writers. His project on the History of Lima recounted the development of the capital of the Viceroyalty from the time of its foundation. In 1629 he was appointed relator in the Council of the Indies, a position that gave him access not only to the legislature promulgated for the colonies across the sea, but also enabled him to undertake the collection of the treaties on the administration of these territories. At the end of his life he was named chronicler of the Indies, in charge of writing the annals of the American past. He died in 1660.

Diego, the youngest brother, was born in Córdova del Tucumán. He started his university studies in Lima and finished them in Salamanca. Upon his return, he held chairs at the Universidad de San Marcos and was its rector between 1656 and 1658. In his judicial career he was general protector of the natives of Lima. He is especially remembered with respect to the apologetic treatise of the University of San Marcos (Hypomnema Apologeticum Pro Regali Academia Limensi, 1643), in which he defended the scientific hierarchy of the institute as well as the cultural achievements of the Peruvians, which he considered underevaluated by European scholars.

"León Pinelo" School in Lima

The history of the León Pinelo school began with the visit of Natán Bistritzky, who arrived in Peru in March 1945 on a mission of the Jewish National Fund. Bistritzky encouraged the leaders of the Jewish community, which at the time comprised only 2,500 persons, to create the Comité Pro-Colegio Hebreo with the objective of founding a Jewish day school in Peru. The community chose the name of "León Pinelo" for his historical ties with the Jewish and Peruvian people. The school was opened on May 1946 with 33 students. During its 50 years of existence, more than 1,600 students graduated from the school, with a high level of Jewish education. Most of the graduates continued their studies in universities in Peru, Israel, or the United States, and work as professionals in Peru or abroad.


On the Colonial period see *Peru. L. Trah temberg, Antología de Judaísmo Contemporáneo, vol. 1: "Antisemitismo" (1987); G. Lohmann Villena, Antonio de León Pinelo, Gran Canciller de las Indias.Website:

[Leon Trahtemberg (2nd ed.)]


views updated Jun 11 2018

Lima Capital and largest city of Peru, on the River Rímac at the foot of the Cerro San Cristóbal. Francisco Pizarro founded Lima in 1535. It functioned as the capital of Spain's New World colonies until the 19th century. Chilean forces occupied Lima during the War of the Pacific (1881–83). It is the commercial and cultural centre of Peru. With the oil-refining port of Callao, the Lima metropolitan area forms the third-largest city of South America, and handles more than 75% of all Peru's manufacturing. Lima has the oldest university (1551) in the Western Hemisphere. Pop. (2000) 7,497,000.