Plaza Mayor ( Plaza de Armas )
Today the heart of the old town is around the Plaza Mayor - until a few years ago known as the Plaza de Armas or "armed plaza" (Plaza Armada) as the early conquistadores called it. There are no remains of any Indian heritage in or around the square; standing on the site of Tauri Chusko's palace is the relatively modern Palacio Gobierno, the cathedral, which occupies occupies the site of an Inca temple once dedicated to the Puma deity, while the Municipal Building lies on what was originally an Inca envoy's mansion. The Palacio de Gobierno - also known as the Presidential Palace - was Pizarro's house long before the present building was conceived. It was here that he spent the last few years of his life and was assassinated in 1541. Its ground might even be considered "sacred" since as he died, his jugular severed by an assassin's rapier, he fell to the floor, drew a cross, then kissed it. The clean, almost impressive, building you can see today, however, is modern, having been completed in 1938. The changing of the guard takes place outside the palace (Mon-Sat at 11.45am) - it's not a particularly spectacular sight, though the soldiers look splendid in their scarlet and blue uniforms. There are free guided tours from the visitor's entrance in Jirón de la Unión (daily 10am), which last a couple of hours and include changing of the guard; to get on one you have to register in the office on the fifth floor of the building opposite the side-entrance. The tour includes the imitation Baroque interior of the palace, and its rather dull collection of colonial and reproduction furniture
Get to know Lima Peru Tourism.
Less than 50m away, the squat and austere Cathedral (Mon-Sat 10am-1pm & 2-5pm; $1.50), designed by Francisco Becerra, was modelled on that of Jaén in Spain and, like Jaén, it has three aisles in a Renaissance style. When Becerra died in 1605, however, the cathedral was far from completion. The towers took another forty years to finish and, in 1746, further frustration arrived in the guise of a devastating earthquake, which destroyed much of the building; the current cathedral, which is essentially a reconstruction of Becerra's design, was rebuilt throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, then again after a further quake in 1940. However, it is primarily of interest for its Museum of Religious Art and Treasures (daily 10am-1pm & 2-5pm; $1.50), which contains seventeenth- and eighteenth-century paintings and some choir stalls with fine wooden carvings by Catalan artist Pedro Noguero. Its other highlight is a collection of human remains thought to be Pizarro's body (quite fitting since he placed the first stone shortly before his death), which lie in the first chapel on the right. Although gloomy, the interior retains some of its appealing Churrigueresque (highly elaborate Baroque) decor. The stalls are superb and, even more impressive, the choir was exquisitely carved in the early seventeenth century by a Catalan artist. The Archbishop's Palace next door was rebuilt as recently as 1924.
Directly across the square, the Municipal Building (Mon-Fri 9am-1pm; free) is a typical example of a half-hearted twentieth-century attempt at something neocolonial. Brilliant white on the outside, its most memorable features are permanent groups of heavily armed guards and the odd armoured car waiting conspicuously for some kind of action. Inside, the Pinacoteca Museum (same hours) houses a selection of Peruvian paintings, notably those of Ignacio Merino from the nineteenth century. In the library ( la biblioteca) you can also see the city's Act of Foundation and Declaration of Independence.
Set back from one corner of the main square is the church and monastery of Santo Domingo (Mon-Sat 9am-12.30pm & 3-6pm, Sun & holidays 9am-1pm; $2). Completed in 1549, Santo Domingo was presented by the pope, a century or so later, with an alabaster statue of Santa Rosa de Lima. Rosa's tomb, and that of San Martin de Porres, are the building's great attractions, and much revered. Otherwise it's not of huge interest or architectural merit, although it is one of the oldest religious structures in Lima, built on a site granted to the Dominicans by Pizarro in 1535. There's a growing concentration of artesania shops around Santo Domingo area, the largest being Santo Domingo, right opposite the monastery. Nearby at the Jirón Conde de Superunda 298, you'll find the recently restored early nineteenth-century Casa de Osambela , which has five balconies on its façade and a look-out point from which boats arriving at the port of Callao could be spotted.
The largest area of old Lima is the stretch between the Plaza Mayor and Plaza San Martin. Worth a quick look here is the old church of San Augustin (daily 8.30am-noon & 3.30-5.30pm; free), founded in 1592 and located on the corner of Ica and Camana. Although severely damaged by earthquake activity (only the small side chapel can be visited nowadays), the church retains a glorious facade, one of the most complicated examples of Churrigueresque architecture in Peru. Just over the road at Camana 459, the Casa de Riva-Aguero (Mon-Fri 11am-1pm & 2-8pm, Sat 9am-1pm; free) is a typical colonial house, built in the early nineteenth century and donated to the Catholic University; its patio has been laid out as an interesting Museuo de Arte Popular , displaying crafts from all over Peru and contemporary paintings. The building functions as the Riva-Aguero Institute which looks after a library and historic archives.
Perhaps the most noted of all religious buildings in Lima is the Iglesia de La Merced (daily 7am-1pm & 4-8pm; free), just two blocks from the Plaza Mayor on the corner of Jirón de la Unión and Jirón Miro Quesada. Built on the site where the first Latin mass in Lima was celebrated, the original church was demolished in 1628 to make way for the present building. Its most elegant feature, a beautiful colonial facade, has been adapted and rebuilt several times - as have the broad columns of the nave - to protect the church against tremors. But by far the most lasting impression is made by the Cross of the Venerable Padre Urraca , whose miraculous silver staff is smothered by hundreds of kisses every hour and witness to the fervent prayers of a constantly shifting congregation. If you've just arrived in Lima, a few minutes by this cross will give you an insight into the depth of Peruvian belief in miraculous power. The attached cloisters (daily 8am-noon & 3-6pm; free) are less spectacular though they do have a historical curiosity: it was here that the Patriots of Independence declared the Virgin of La Merced their military marshal. A couple of minutes' walk further towards the Plaza San Martin, at the corner of Camana and Jirón Moquegua, stands the church of Jesus María (daily 7am-1pm & 3-7pm; free), home of Capuchin nuns from Madrid in the early eighteenth century. Take a look inside at its outstanding, sparkling Baroque gilt altars and pulpits.Two interesting sanctuaries can be found on the western edge of old Lima, along Avenida Tacna. The Sanctuario de Santa Rosa de Lima (daily 9.30am-12.30pm & 3.30-6.30pm; free), on the corner of Jirón Lima, is a fairly plain church named in honour of the first saint created in the Americas. The construction of Avenida Tacna destroyed a section of the already small seventeenth-century church, but in the patio next door you can visit the saint's hermitage , a small adobe cell, and a fascinating Museo Etnografico , containing crafts, tools, jewellery and weapons from jungle tribes, plus some photographs of early missionaries.
At the junction of Avenida Tacna and Huancavelica, the church of Las Nazarenas (daily 7am-noon & 4.30-8pm; free) is again small and outwardly undistinguished but it has an interesting history. After the severe 1655 earthquake, a mural of the crucifixion, painted by an Angolan slave on the wall of his hut, was apparently the only object left standing in the district. Its survival was deemed a miracle - the cause of popular processions ever since - and it is on this site that the church was founded. The widespread and popular processions for the Lord of Miracles, to save Lima from another earthquake, take place every autumn (Oct 18, 19, 28 & Nov 1), based around a silver litter which carries the original mural. Purple is the colour of the procession and many women in Lima wear it for the entire monthJirón Ancash leads away from the Palacio de Gobierno towards one of Lima's most attractive churches, San Francisco (daily 10am-1pm & 3-6pm; $2). A large seventeenth-century construction with an engaging stone facade and towers, San Francisco's vaults and columns are elaborately decorated with mudéjar (Moorish-style) plaster relief. It's a majestic building that has withstood the passage of time and the devastation of successive earth tremors. The San Fransisco Monastary also contains a superb library and a room of paintings by (or finished by) Pieter Paul Rubens, Jordaens and Van Dyck. Forty-minute guided tours are offered of the monastery and its Catacombs Museum (daily 9.30am-5.45pm; $1.50), both of which are worth a visit. The museum is inside the church's vast crypts, which were only discovered in 1951 and contain the skulls and bones of some seventy thousand people.
Opposite San Francisco, at Jirón Ancash 390, is La Casa Pilatos (Mon-Fri 11am-1.30pm; free), now the home of the Instituto Nacional de Cultura and one of several well-restored colonial mansions in Lima. Quite a simple building, and no competition for Torre Tagle, it nevertheless has an attractive courtyard with an unusual stone staircase leading up from the middle of the patio.
A couple of blocks away, the Museo de La Inquisición , Jirón Junin 548 (Mon-Fri 9am-8pm, Sat 9am-5pm; free), faces out onto Plaza Bolivar near the Congress building. Behind a facade of Greek-style classical columns, the museum contains the original tribunal room with its beautifully carved mahogany ceiling. This was the headquarters of the Inquisition for the whole of Spanish-dominated America from 1570 until 1820, and, beneath the building, you can look round the dungeons and torture chambers, which contain a few gory, life-sized human models. The few blocks behind the museum and Avenida Abancay are taken over by the central market and Chinatown . Perhaps one of the most fascinating sectors of Lima Centro, Chinatown is now swamped by the large and colourful (if also smelly and rife with pickpockets) daily market. An ornate Chinese gateway, crossing over Jirón Huallaya, marks the site of Lima's best and cheapest chifa (Chinese) restaurants.
Heading from Chinatown back towards the Plaza Mayor along Ucayali, you'll pass the church of San Pedro (daily 7am-1pm & 6-8.30pm; free) on the corner of Jirón Azangaro. Built by the Jesuits and occupied by them until their expulsion in 1767, this richly decorated colonial temple dripping with art treasures is worth a brief look around. However, just over the road, you'll find the far more spectacular Torre Tagle Palace , at Ucayali 358 (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm; free), pride and joy of the old city. Now the home of Peru's Ministry for Foreign Affairs and recognizable by the security forces with machine guns on the roof and top veranda, Torre Tagle is a superb, beautifully maintained mansion built in the 1730s. It is embellished with a decorative facade and two wooden balconies, which are typical of Lima in that one is larger than the other. The porch and patio are distinctly Andalucian, although some of the intricate wood carvings on pillars and across ceilings display a native influence; the azulejos, or tiling, also shows a strong fusion of styles - this time a combination of Moorish and Limeño tastes. In the left-hand corner of the patio you can see a set of scales like those used to weigh merchandise during colonial times, and the house also contains a magnificent sixteenth-century carriage complete with mobile toilet. Originally, mansions such as Torre Tagle served as refuges for outlaws, the authorities being unable to enter without written and stamped permission - now anyone can go in (afternoons are the quietest times to visit).