Peru: Ancient cultures, colonial architecture, and a multiethnic melting pot

Located on the western coast of South America, the Republic of Peru boasts a mixture of historical, cultural, and natural beauty. It once was home to various civilizations, but it is perhaps most widely known for being home of the Inca civilization — considered the largest empire in the Americas, prior to the arrival of Europeans. One of the most iconic representations of the Incas is Machu Picchu, a site located almost 8,000 feet above sea level. It is believed to have been built around 1400 AD, for the Incan emperor, Pachacuti. Machu Picchu is one of the top archeological sites in the world and it has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. In Peru, you can also find the Nazca Lines, giant sketches that can only be seen from the air, by flying over the Nazca Desert. These are believed to have been made by the Nazca Indians from 200 BC to 700 CE. Hundreds of designs include human body shapes, hands, trees, condors, hummingbirds, monkeys, sharks, llamas, and fish.

Peru is a multiethnic nation, the result of different groups combining over five centuries: from the Amerindians who first inhabited Peruvian territory, to the Spaniards and Africans who arrived in large numbers under colonial rule. These mixed widely with each other and other indigenous peoples, and due to that and the gradual immigration of English, French, German, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese people, a 2015 genealogical DNA study found that the average Peruvian is estimated to be 79.1 percent Amerindian, 19.8 percent European, and 1.1 percent Sub-Saharan African. The Peruvian Constitution establishes three official languages: Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara. Spanish is the main language of the country and is used by the government, the media, and in educational systems and commerce.

Peru’s colonial architecture — the conjunction of European styles exposed to the influence of indigenous imagery — is preserved very well and can be observed in many different structures, such as churches, houses around the historic quarter, and elegant mansions carved from sillar or white volcanic stone. Old Lima showcases more than four centuries of living history, with doorways of gracious manors, sunlit patios, and Baroque balconies. And Peru’s architectural and historical contributions wouldn’t be complete without the convent of Santo Domingo, which in 1551 saw the founding of San Marcos University, the oldest university in the Americas.

Did you know…? Peru introduced potatoes to the world, back in the sixteenth century. Out of the 104 known life zones on earth, Peru is home to 84 of them, making it vastly diverse in wildlife. According to scientists, the Amazon Jungle (which Peru and Brazil house the largest portions of) was created millions of years ago when the Amazon River changed the direction of its flow from west to east. Norte Chico is one of the oldest civilizations in the world.

This is the eighteenth in a series of articles spotlighting different countries in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. To see a complete list of previous entries, click here.