The heart of downtown Lima (‘El Centro’), is the Plaza de Armas, aka ‘Plaza Mayor’. The oldest part of this impressive square is its central bronze fountain, erected in 1650. Of the structures that surround it, not a single original building remains.
Its oldest building is the cathedral, which was originally built in 1555 but reconstructed after an earthquake in 1746. Within the cathedral’s mosaic-covered chapel (to the right of the main door) you’ll find the coffin of Francisco Pizarro, as well as a beautifully-carved choir and small religious museum at the back of the cathedral. The Cathedral is open until 5 p.m. daily; admission is $1.50 for adults (less for children and students).
To the left of the cathedral is the Archbishop’s Palace, which dates from around 1924. On the cathedral’s northeastern flank, the Palacio de Gobierno is the official residence and office of Peru’s president. It sits on the banks of the Rimac River, Lima’s principal waterway, and faces San Cristobal Hill, the city’s highest point. Access to the palace is restricted, but special tours can be arranged. The changing of the guard, which takes places outside at noon, is free.
On a corner of the plaza, opposite the cathedral, there is a statue of Francisco Pizarro on horseback, and off to the side is the Monesterio de San Francisco, famous for its lugubrious catacombs and remarkable library, which has thousands of antique texts, some dating back to the Spanish conquest.
All these structures feature intricately-carved wooden balconies, making the downtown cityscape a unique experience. One could sit for hours and people-watch, but if you’re on the move, the Plaza de Armas is linked to Plaza San Martín by the bustling pedestrian mall Jirónde la Unión, which continues south as Jirón Belén and runs into Paseo de la República.
- David Jennings