Thursday, February 04, 2010
Downtown Lima, Peru
After having secured our itinerary with Francis we took a day to visit Lima and to follow some of his suggestions for a daytrip. I need to preface by saying that just because a city is the capital of a county it does not mean it is the most beautiful part of the county. Lima worked out great for the Conquistadores because it had a very good natural harbor. Water was available due to a river nearby and the area is relatively flat, so all in all it was a good place to anchor. In the beginning Lima was just a small village, nothing to write home about. After the discovery of gold, Lima turned into one of the main centers for transshipment of the loot to Europe. In the fashion of the day, a Christian order was given the exclusive right to convert the heathens to Christianity. For Lima, the Crown of Spain gave this right to the Franciscan order and their monks. Maybe it helped that Pizarro’s first name was Francisco.
We visited the church of San Francisco which was build around a monastery mainly to see the catacombs. This was not the first Church built nor is it the main cathedral of Lima. The main Cathedral is near the Plaza de Armas, the main square, which is in the layout of a major Spanish town. I believe one has to choose which church to visit because there are so many of them and to visit all are not part of what I want to do when on a trip. San Francisco Cathedral and its cloister are known for the catacombs but besides that the woodcarvings are impressive. True Christians, in years past, were buried in the womb of Gods building to be as close to God as possible, even after death. Pizarro is buried in the main Cathedral, the church we did not visit. Like I said, I do not want to visit just churches while in a country. Maybe I will visit Pizarro’s tomb near the end of the trip. I also have the feeling that I will hear about Pizarro and the Franciscans and their counterpart the Jesuits all along this trip, so I will take it easy on the religious part of my history lesson. I will comment on what I learn after some time.
For now I want to write down what I learned in the catacombs. I learned that when bodies were buried inside the church lime was added to their decomposing bodies to speed up the decomposition of the flesh but the bones remained. After a while the whole basement of the cathedral was full of bones. Since its beginning in 1642 body after body was buried beneath the main floor of the cathedral. After 1842 this practice stopped, yet over 75,000 people were buried below the floor. Today only some bones remain. Most of them were cleaned up around 1940 or so and only the big parts were saved. Artfully arranged they remain in cases and special places, off limits to visitors yet plainly in sight. It is a bit eerie to see skulls and shin bones, etc. all lines up like in a warehouse. Just imagine the stink of the decomposing bodies filtering through the holes in the floor into the main nave of the church. Now I know why the church uses a lot of incense during a mass. The strong whiff of the incense helps to eliminate some of the other odors, I guess. It was an experience and worth a visit.
We stopped at the museum of Mr. Rafael Larco Herrera and his famous Archeology collection. In a beautiful house with an exquisite courtyard, Mr. Herrera today shows his private collection of Pre-Columbian art. It is not a very large, overwhelming museum yet it shows clearly that the Incas were just the tip of the iceberg in the cultures of Peru. Before the Incas were dozens of other ‘tribes’ that dominated. The Incas were just at the top when Pizarro arrived. Before the Incas, were other cultures I am here to learn about.
Visiting the museum and looking at the objects displayed, I can see why the Spaniards melted them down. It is hard to see the value of a golden object when your taste in art runs so opposed. I guess art is in the eye of a beholder. People made some mistakes when being faced with choices between a plain golden plate and an ornamented golden ring. Even today I do not share the feeling of beauty of a nose ring or an object one sticks in an enlarged earlobe. Yet those were objects prized and treasured by the Incas. I have a lot to learn.
We walked around the Plaza de Armas, visited Plaza de Martin and then took a local bus back to the hostel. The bus ride was an experience I will talk about in a separate small note.