Lima, where your neighbor is often a monumental archaeological site

By Rosabella Alvarez-Calderón

Among the skyscrapers that tower Lima are pre-Hispanic pyramids dating back nearly 2,000 years.

Lima, where your neighbor is often a monumental archaeological site

(Photo: Luigi Guarino/Flickr)

This article appears on the blog The Grid from Global Site Plans on Dec. 11, 2013.

Lima is a city of over eight million people that sprawls over an area just under 3,000 square kilometers encompassing valleys, desert, wetlands, and forests, among other geographical features. A bird’s eye view reveals that, with the exception of the mountains and rivers, many of these geographic features have been flattened to create a level canvas on which the city was built.

However, among these tamed geographic features, the city’s modern infrastructure and buildings, and its historical buildings, there are many large beige-colored features that do not look modern, yet are not the work of nature. These are the city’s archaeological sites, known locally as huacas, the material remains of thousands of years of occupation and development of the land that is now occupied by the city.

These weathered huacas are the buildings constructed and used by the societies of the pre-Hispanic period, the people who lived in the area before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, who founded the city in the sixteenth century. The expansion of Lima during the nineteenth and twentieth century involved the partial and total destruction of many of these huacas, yet many still remain as part of the urban landscape. One of the best-known of these sites is called Pucllana, located in the district of Miraflores.

Pucllana, which currently contains an archaeological research center, an open-air museum, and a restaurant, is a huaca that both shaped and was shaped by the city that surrounds it. For many decades Pucllana was seen by many as a dusty ruin, a wasteland, and there was much interest in demolishing the structure in order to develop the land for housing. For much of the twentieth century, there were few people who advocated for the preservation of this site, most notably archaeologists like Julio C. Tello. After several decades of conflicts and negotiations between landowners, real-estate developers, archaeologists, neighbors, and the municipality, a formal long-term archaeological program was established in 1980, and the site was converted into an open-air museum.

Although the city around Pucllana still retains many traces of its middle-class origins, the area is showing many signs of gentrification. An upscale restaurant replaced a corner store, known locally as a bodega. Shiny SUV’s and large tour buses share the roads with Volkswagen Beetles. Fancy new apartment buildings have replaced mid-century chalets. Yet the area still remains pleasantly pedestrian friendly, in spite of occasional cars zooming by at high speeds. A sidewalk now surrounds the perimeter of the archaeological site, integrating it with the street, and a small triangular park has become a popular gathering space. There is no doubt that the transformation of Pucllana itself was instrumental in catalyzing the urban transformation of this part of Miraflores.

The transformation of the Pucllana neighborhood will also have significant consequences that many will not welcome. Rapid and unregulated gentrification tends to displace the area’s original, usually lower-income, residents and change the character of the neighborhood. An increase in density and the growing popularity of Pucllana as a tourist destination has brought in more traffic and noise.

Rosabella Alvarez-Calderon hails from Lima, Peru. She is a professional archaeologist who spent several years working in prehispanic and historical sites both in Lima and in northern Peru before coming to the United States. The Harvard graduate and Global Site Plans writer is currently based in the Boston area, where she combines her background and interest in archaeology with the study of how cities are formed and transformed and how can a city´s historical footprint, buildings and open spaces contribute to creating a sense of place and to inspire new urban design.

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