Start on the Plaza Mayor, which is graced with a bronze fountain from 1650 and flanked on one side by the Catedral, which was built in the late 16th century. It contains the carved wooden sepulcher of Francisco Pizarro, who was murdered in 1541 by a mob of Almagristas, a rival political faction. As you enter, the first chapel on the right is dedicated to St. John the Baptist and contains a carving of Jesus that is considered to be among the most beautiful in the Americas.
But the highlights of the cathedral are the choir stalls carved in the early 17th century by Pedro Noguera, and the museum (9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Sat., US$5). Paintings here include a 1724 work by Alonso de la Cueva that paints the faces of the 13 Inca rulers alongside a lineup of Spanish kings from Carlos V to Felipe V. There is no clearer example of how art was used to put order on a turbulent, violent succession of kings.
Other pieces include a series of allegorical paintings painted in the 17th century by the Bassano brothers in northern Italy (no one knows how or when this priceless art was imported) and chest altars, one from Ayacucho and the other from Cusco, with an astounding number of miniature painted figures made of potato flour.
Also on the Plaza Mayor are the magnificent Archbishop’s Palace (not open to the public) and, on the corner, the Casa del Oidor. This 16th-century house is closed to the public but has Lima’s signature wooden balconies on the outside, with carvings inspired by Moorish designs and wood slats from behind which women viewed the activity on the square.
Next door is the Palacio del Gobierno, the president’s palace, which forms the other side of the Plaza Mayor and was built by the Spanish on top of the home of Taulichusco, the ruler of the Rímac Valley at that time. It was at this spot that liberator Jose de San Martín proclaimed the symbolic independence of Peru on July 28, 1821. There is an interesting change of the guard at noon and a change of the flag at 5:45 p.m. Monday–Saturday.
Also on the Plaza Mayor is the Club de la Unión, a business club formed in 1868 that is a bit empty these days. Between these buildings are the pedestrian streets of Pasaje Santa Rosa and Escribanos, which are lined with upscale restaurants, cafés, and bookstores.
At the corner of the palace and the Municipality is Lima’s antique post office, the Casa de Correos y Telégrafos (176 Conde de Superunda, 8 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Sun.), which has a small stamps museum. Behind the post office is the pedestrian walkway Pasaje de Correos, which had a glass roof until a 1940 earthquake and is now lined with vendors selling postcards, teddy bears, and other miscellaneous items.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition