Lima is definitely a city on the cutting edge of business and technology. From the Metropolitan bus and train lines that connect the city’s sprawling suburban districts; to the new buildings that continue to pop out of nowhere to complete the skyline; to the reliable free wi-fi access in many of Lima’s public parks-- everything in this city points toward progress.
Yet, nestled within this massive engine of growth are some of the places that give this city true character, the pre-Hispanic sites that tell an ancient story which reminds its residents and visitors that the progress being made in Peru these days is nothing new to the descendants of this once prominent empire, but rather a reaffirmation and return to glory.
In Lima, the past and present still live together harmoniously in the form of the city’s many Huacas, the immense rock monuments used by the Inca early civilizations to revere their deities. Archeologists believe there may have been as many as 400 of them at one point. These Huacas can be found in many of the city’s districts and they prove that you don’t have to necessarily trek into the Andes to find remnants of Peru’s ancient civilizations.
Huaca Pucllana, also known as Huaca Juliana, in Miraflores. (photo: Wikimedia)
Huaca Pucllana is a perfect starting point for an exploration of Lima’s huacas. Located in the heart of Miraflores (just two blocks from Ovalo Gutierrez) this adobe structure is believed to have been erected in 500 A.D., during the height of the cultural height of Lima’s history.
Just 30 years ago the neighborhood huaca was nearly over run with squatters and petty crime that threatened its survival, but today it is one of the most attractive and mystical sections of Miraflores.
Relatively small, Pucllana spreads over 15 hectares and is divided into two well-defined section. One is a 75-feet-tall pyramidal structure where the pre-Hispanic society performed religious activities. The other is the administrative section with a public square, courtyards, and passage ways that indicate a number of ceremonies and trade activities once took place there.
You can also stop by the Restaurant Huaca Pucllana for dinner and treat yourself to an amazing view of the huaca illuminated like a Hollywod movie set.
The Mateo Salado archeological complex is home to five pyramids. (photo: Trome)
Huaca Mateo Salado is one of the most important archeological complexes of the Yschma culture (1100 A.D- 1450 A.D.). Like Pucllana, it´s found in the middle of one of Lima’s most populated district, Pueblo Libre, and is home to five pyramids that are key sites in the lower Valley of the Rimac River for their length and size.
The site was named after a French hermit who lived near the huaca back in the 16th century. As a Lutheran fanatic, he is most known for being the first victim of the Spanish Inquisition in Peru.
Covering more than 20 hectares this site promises to be a hub for tourism, archaeological investigation, and ecological sustainability for years to come.
In the posh district of San Isidro you’ll find the beautifully preserved Huaca Huallamarca or Pan de Azúcar (Sugar Bread), an adobe scaled pyramid with a network of tombs that represent a long period that stretches from the 3rd century A.D. to the coming of the Incas in the 15th century.
According to archaeologists, Huallamarca was a ceremonial center for the religious elite, later a cemetery, and eventually a human settlement. You can see how bodies were prepared for funerary practices in an extended position, wrapped with cotton cloths and placed to rest with ceramic pots and food for the afterlife.
At the onsite museum you can see artifacts found in Hulluamarca since the first archaeological excavations back in 1958.
Huaca Purucho was built in the 9th century. (photo: El Comercio)
Puruchuco is another important pre-Hispanic site within the city of Lima. It is located about 3 miles from the center of the city in the Ate district and was once a main ceremonial site for the Incas. Supposedly, more than 10,000 human remains and 60,000 artifacts have been found there.
In 2004 archaeologists made an amazing discovery in Puruchuco when they found evidence of what appears to be the first gunshot victim in the Americas. The body was found with a clear entrance and exit wound like the kind found in gunshot victims, and without any funeral objects, which is very uncharacteristic for the Incas.
You can explore the site and visit the museum to get a closer look at the mummified bodies and artifacts from the Incan civilization.
These sites are more than just old piles of rocks; they contain many lessons about our past, present, and may give us some insight into Peru’s future. Most importantly, visiting one of the city’s many huacas is a fun and educational way to spend a day in this beautiful metropolis.
Lima may be moving forward rapidly; nevertheless it never hurts to take a look back at its pre-Hispanic past.