Karencita de Perú

Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

As I walk around the streets of Lima one of the most obvious differences from what I had grown accustomed to in Vancouver is the architecture and the way buildings are constructed.  Apart from the fact that Lima is a much more historic city than Vancouver and many of the buildings are hundreds of years older, there are two principal differences that stand out to me.  As well, there are a few other interesting things that aren’t commonly seen in Canada.

First, the majority of the buildings in Lima have flat roofs as opposed to peaked roofs, as is common in Vancouver and most other parts of Canada.  This is because having a sloped roof to ensure that the snow and rain-water run off  isn’t a concern in Lima.  Lima is in the midst of a coastal desert and gets an average of 13mm of rain per year.  Vancouver has an average annual rainfall of 1117 mm!!

Another reason that homes in Lima are built with flat roofs is that they are often added on to after the original construction.  As children grow up and start to have families of their own, it is common to expand the family home so that the new couple can live with the parents, but have their own space in the house.   Lima is densely populated and there is no room to build to the side, front or back of the house, so they build up, adding subsequent floors as more space is needed.  This practice of adding additional floors to a house leads to one of the things that isn’t often seen in Canada which is that a lot of houses appear unfinished.  They commonly have pieces of re-bar sticking out of the roof  in preparation for the future construction.

The other major difference is in the construction materials used.  In Lima buildings are constructed with concrete, cinder block, brick and re-bar.  In Western Canada the most common building material for individual homes is wood.  Again, this is due to geographic location.  In Western Canada there is an abundance of wood so lumber construction makes sense.  Conversely, there are no forests immediately surrounding Lima and no lumber industry to speak of in Peru.

In a country where central heating and air conditioning are very rare, concrete construction has the benefit of good insulation.  In Canada apartment building are often constructed on the outside with concrete but the inner walls are still made of lumber and dry wall.  In Peru, even the inner walls are concrete.  This is good for sound proofing, but it does make hanging pictures a bit of a challenge.

Apart from the differences in architecture and building materials, I have seen some other things that have caught my attention.   One of those is the electrical wires in the street.  Lima has very few underground cables.  The majority are  above ground, attached to poles, as is common in the older neighborhoods of Vancouver.   However, what you won’t often see in Vancouver is the tangles mess or archaic cables that you will find here.  It is really quite a frightening sight.

Another thing that is more commonly seen here than in Vancouver is abandoned buildings or buildings where the construction has never been completed.  In some cases these partially constructed buildings sit empty, deteriorating from disuse.  But there is one building which always makes me wonder how it is possible that people can be living there.  It is in the heart of Miraflores, one of the nicest districts in Lima, on Avenida Benavides, a main street.  The building is obviously unfinished yet it is inhabited by many people.  Imagine trying to get an occupancy permit in a building like this in Canada!

The final thing that I have seen numerous times that always grabs my attention is a difference in construction techniques.  It is common to see wooden poles used as supports during the construction process.  In Canada supports are generally made of metal so the image of what looks like a bunch of sticks holding up pounds of heavy concrete somehow doesn’t seem very safe to me, although I’m sure they know what they are doing!


Cusco, also spelled Cuzco, is located near the Urubamaba Valley and the Andes mountain range.  It was the historic capital of the Inca Empire and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983.  Almost a million visitors come to Cusco every year to learn about the Inca culture and travel to Macchu Picchu.  In addition to Macchu Picchu there are a lot of other interesting things to see around the Cusco area.  We did a tour of the Valle Sagrada (Sacred Valley), a City Tour that covered important Inca ruins just outside the city and we went horseback riding.  I’ll write more about these things in future posts, but today I want to focus on the city of Cusco itself.

One of the most striking things about Cusco is the elevation.  It has an altitude of 3,400 meters (11,200 feet) above sea level.  In comparison, Vancouver is 2 meters (7 feet) above see level.  That is a big difference.  When you fly into Cusco it is interesting because the plane is in the clouds but you are very close to the tops of the mountains.  When you land you can feel the change of elevation immediately.  The air is thinner and you become out of breath much easier.  For the first day I had a bit of a headache and Luis had a really bad headache that lasted two days.

The most common remedy for altitude sickness or soroche is hoja de coca (coca leaves).  The leaves can be chewed, you can drink them in mate de coca (a tea made with coca leaves) and you can even buy them as candies.  Hoja de coca has always played an important role in the Inca Civilization and continues to be used today for spiritual purposes, medicinal purposes and even commercial purposes.

Chewing coca leaves will not make you “high” like cocaine.  In order to produce the drug cocaine there must be a chemical process at different determined temperatures with elements such as tartic acid, pure clorhidric acid, ether and anhydrous soda sulfate. The coca leaf contains 14 alkaloids, from which the most popular and broadly used is the cocaine, the others are wasted or simply ignored.

The Plaza de Armas and the surrounding area is the heart of Cusco and  is the area most popular for tourists.  The plaza is surrounded by over-priced restaurants that cater to tourists, discos, souvenir shops and tourist agencies.  However, the plaza itself is lovely with a fountain and beautiful flowers.  The two most prominent structures that surround the plaza are La Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesus (The Church of the Society of Jesus) and The Cathedral.  Both the Church and the Cathedral were built between the years 1560 and 1668.  The photo on the left is the Church and the photo on the right is the Cathedral.

Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire from the 1200s to 1532 so it is very old.  As well, a good part of the city is located on the side of a hill.  As such there are a lot of steep, narrow roads and walkways in Cusco.   In one of the pedestrian walkways, famous for its Inca walls where huge stones were precisely carved to fit together without mud or concrete, you will find the masterpiece, a 12-angled stone, about halfway down the street.  In Spanish it is called “La Pierda de Doce Angulos‘ and no matter what time of day there are always people around the stone taking  their picture with it.  Click on this link for more details.

Next time I will talk about the food, the people and the dogs of Cusco!

The other great place to visit in Barranco is the main square.   From The Bridge of Sighs, you walk up a few sets of steps to arrive at the main square.  The two most prominent buildings here are the Biblioteca Municipal (Municipal Library) and La Iglesia Santísima Cruz (The Holy Cross Church) 

The central square has lovely gardens and a fountain.  There area always lots of people strolling through the park or sitting on the benches enjoying the atmosphere.

The best part, however, is the food.  Like is the market in Surquillo, there is a food festival here on the weekends.  They serve a variety of typical dishes from the various regions of Peru like la selva (the jungle), la sierra (the mountains) and la costa (the coast).  The food varies in the different regions of Peru based on local ingredients and customs.  The food fair in Barranco is very popular and packed with people.

Last Sunday when Luis and I went to Barracno we had lunch there.  I had Milanesa rellena con jamón y queso, yuca frita and arroz (chicken stuffed with ham and cheese, fried yucca and rice).  Luis had Arroz con pollo y champinoñes and  ensalada de papas (rice with chicken and mushrooms and potato salad).  It was very good.

Even better than the main dishes are the desserts.  As you walk by the ladies entice you with sample of their baked goods, elaborate cakes and elegant pies.  It was a hard choice, but I decided to try something different and had Pye de Higo (fig pie).  It was very tasty.

After all that food I was stuffed, however there is always room for a traditional Pisco Sour to finish off a perfect meal!

On Sunday we went to Barranco, which is known as The Bohemian Quarter of Lima.  It is located to the south of Miraflores along the cliffs that overlook the Pacific Ocean.  We had planned to take the Metropolitano there but it turns out that it isn’t running to that area yet so we ended up walking.  Barranco is about 30 minutes walking from our place in Miraflores and there is some beautiful scenery along the way.

Barranco is one of the nicer and more interesting districts of Lima .  It is very historic and has a lot of beautiful, old architecture.   There is also a large concentration of bars and clubs that apparently make it a lively and happening place after-dark.  I haven’t been to Barranco at night yet, but hope to experience the night-life there one day soon.  See this article in Wikipedia for more information about the Barranco District.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barranco_District

One of the interesting sights in Barranco is a church called La Ermita.  An earthquake in 1940 damaged this church. The roof is still disintegrating and has not yet been repaired.

The other landmark that Barranco is famous for is El Puente de los Suspiros or The Bridge of Sighs.  It was constructed in 1876 and survived the earthquake of 1940.  The name is derived from the innumerable romances that have started in this picturesque corner of Barranco.  There exists a tradition that says that if the first time you cross the bridge you do so without breathing, your wish will be granted.

The bridge spans the Bajada de Baños, a stone walkway that runs down to the ocean.  Along the way there are numerous old homes, cafes & restaurants and some lovely flowers.

After strolling down the path a ways  you finally arrive at the breath-taking views of the Pacific Ocean.  There is a pedestrian bridge that crosses over the busy Costa Verde highway so you can enjoy the rocky beach.

Next time… Barranco Part 2, where I’ll talk about the delicious Fería de Comida and show some pictures of the beautiful main square in Barranco.

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Miraflores in Lima Perú