I sat down in Plaza Mayor observing the beauty of Lima and its people. I saw many people with their friends or family, as well as other tourists exploring the sites. There was a lot of bustling going on in the streets and plenty of street vendors trying to earn a little money. Yet, when I sat down I felt reminded of my travels in Europe and began ruminating about how the symbolism of this colonial architecture could impact the general Peruvian psyche. Years have passed since it’s origin. Francisco Pizarro founded the city of Lima in the 1530’s, announcing this decision in Plaza Mayor. This plaza existed pre-Hispanic times; Pizarro actually built over a pre-existing central plaza. When taking the time to sit in a plaza such as this, it is amazing to consider how many millions of people have walked and breathed its air. Sometimes, I wonder what it would look like if all the footprints of all the people that have ever walked in such an area could be somehow documented. Each person walking through was impacted in some way by this space.
I have to admit when I sat in Plaza Mayor to observe the sights around me, I felt rather conflicted. Part of me loved looking at the broad buildings, built with an air of authority. They command honor with their robust baroque style.The facade of these buildings are not elaborately decadent, but it is within their plainness that one feels the power they were intended to emit – a rather matter of fact effect that does not inspire the viewer to call into question its authority. The many balconies seem to stretch out from the core of the buildings as though those within can better observe, and ultimately command those below. In addition, one can see that relatively speaking these buildings have been taken care of in comparison to the surrounding buildings when considering the earthquake history of Lima. In that way, they show their prevailing power.
Yet, sitting in the Plaza, I knew that this prevailing power was an intruder. The enclosed balconies have a distinct and beautiful style because they protrude from the side of the buildings, but this style really seems symbolic of being able to control the people below. They are like little observatories one would see in a zoo to observe the wild animals below while maintaining distance. Yes, it is stylistic, but this style creates many presumptions about the type of person that lives in these buildings, who lives outside them, and the interaction between the two. I look at these buildings and think to myself that if they had perhaps been build by the ingenious engineering of the Incas, then maybe they could have survived earthquakes. The ruins of the Incas have survived more than these structures which have required restoration. Yet, these are the buildings that stand.
I know that the sensitivity I have in regards to colonization are shared by others, but I have huge reconciliation in knowing that through time everything changes. Peru gained its independence in 1821 and overtime other countries respected its sovereignty. Now Peru is a democratic country and these buildings are for the people. In fact, these buildings have suffered and celebrated Peruvian history too. They have physically been damaged by earthquakes and by the coastal desert climate. They have withstood political and social transitions over decades. So now, these buildings are a testament to the rich, dynamic history of Peru and a symbol of it. They are reminders that this land and its people were so valuable that people lost lives over it.
Daniel is a volunteer and researcher for the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru.