Callao (population about 800,000) is the port city for Lima (population about 10,000,000,) completely surrounded and not particularly prosperous. The two together have about one third of the population of Peru.
Lima is a city; one could envision living here. Doré is not interested. There are some neighborhoods that one would definitely avoid but what city doesn’t have those. The Miraflores District has very nice homes (most less than $300,000 US,) waterfront, hotels, shops, and of course public squares and gardens. The homes did have small court yards in front surrounded by serious walls and locked gates, which says something about the culture.
We took a couple tours; one was city highlights and the other was the Larco Herrera Museum. The highlights included a lot of streets and public squares. The city was destroyed by a Tsunami in the 16th Century that stopped at the front steps of the Church, which is now Our Lady of the Miracle. There was a fire in the 19th Century that took care of all the wooden structures so the architecture is late 19th and early 20th Century very much in a French style, which has little or nothing to do with any of the country’s cultural heritages. With foreign investment, primarily from Chili, things seem to be looking up.
There were two memorable stops on the highlights tour. One was a monastery founded by the Dominicans in the 16th century (allegedly, they had their fingers in the Miracle of the Tsunami.) They also founded the first university in the Western Hemisphere, which is still operating. The monastery has the tomb of St. Rose of Lima, and a couple other less well known saints.
Apparently, miracles were fairly commonplace here in the 16th Century. One future saint, who belonged to the monastery, did them so routinely that the Prior asked him to hold off for a while. That presented a dilemma when a worker fell off the bell tower. The future saint reportedly suspended the man in midair until he could check with the prior about how to proceed. I didn’t hear the end of the story.
When I say he “belonged” to the monastery, I don’t mean he was a monk, which was rather high status. His father was a wealthy aristocrat, which should be enough to get you in with a sufficient donation, but his mother was a slave, which naturally would disqualify you from consideration.
St. Rose of Lima is significant in my life because that was the name of the grammar school, run by French order of nuns in Short Hills, NJ, that Doré attended.
The “highlight” that will stick in my memory was a private home that has been turned into a museum of sorts. (A very nice home, the family still lives in one wing; grandma was knitting in the roped-off living room; that was a nice touch for a museum.) The owner collects nativity scenes. He started with some with Peruvian themes but eventually expanded his horizons. There is also a lot contemporary art, some of it very nice, some of it you can find in souvenir stores. It brought to mind the House on the Rock in Wisconsin. Four or five doll houses are interesting; room after room filled with them is mind-numbing. Nativity scenes had pretty much the same effect.
The Larco Museum is another private museum with an astonishing collection of pre-Spanish artifacts. The Incas, who everyone knows about, were the last before the Spaniards. While they controlled everything from central Mexico to central Chili, west of the Andes, they only lasted a few hundred years. They were very good at building roads and working with metals. (Gold, silver, and copper are still very big here, and mining is very controversial.) And, according to our guide, when ordered by the Spaniards to fill a large room with gold objects to ransom the king, almost everything that went in was copper covered with gold leaf.
Before the Incas, there were five or six cultures, covering at least 8,000 years. They started with sun-dried clay pots and over the millennia, advanced to really striking ceramics. Much of the decorations were more finely done and elaborate than that done by the Incas. Unlike the Egyptians and Mayans, none of these cultures appeared to have a written language of any form, so little is known about them. Some did use very complicated knotted strings for accounting but that was business not memory keeping.
Most of the artifacts in the museum were probably acquired illegally from looters and, when it became illegal to own anything old, the owner declared everything and a foundation for the museum was created.