Latinamerica Collection
History of Peru

Pre-Columbian Period

The Pre-Columbian Period of Peru may be broken up into three significant divisions: the Pre-Agricultural from 15,000BCE to 5,000BCE, the Agricultural from 5,000BCE to 1,500BCE, and the Great Cultural Development from 3,000BCE to 1532CE.

i. Pre-Agricultural Period
In this period, men were essentially nomads, hunters, fishermen and collectors. They used stone and bone utensils and had a limited impact on the environment.

ii. Agricultural Period
Through their knowledge of the behavior and life cycles of fish, plants and animals, men exercised an increasing dominion over nature and became sedentary. They grew pumpkins, squash, butter beans, corn, peanuts, sweet potatoes, potatoes, quinoa and cotton. They domesticated wild animals such as llamas, alpacas and guinea pigs. They made fishing more technical and hunted sea lions. These new ways of obtaining food supplies gave rise to significant changes, marked by the appearance of civilization.


iii. Great Cultural Development Period
This period consisted of two stages, the longer Pre-Inca Period which lasted until halfway through the fifteenth century, and the Inca Period.


Numerous cultures developed during the Pre-Inca Period, the most significant being the following:


Caral (2,900 - 1500BCE)
This culture inhabited the Supe valley in the central coast. Caral is the oldest city in the American continent, one thousand years older than those that appeared in Meso-America and almost a contemporary of the ones in Mesopotamia.


Chavin (1200 -300BCE)
This culture appeared in the Mosna valley in the department of Ancash in the north-central highlands. It was considered the first great Peruvian culture until Caral was discovered at the end of the last century. Its main architectural feat is the Chavin de Huantar Temple.

Paracas (0 - 700CE)
This culture developed in the lower end of the Paracas bay on the southern coast, in the department of Ica. Its textiles and mantles are the pinnacle of the Peruvian textile tradition.


Nazca (0 -700CE)
The centre of this culture was the Grande river valley, 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of Lima. The splendid chromatism of the Paracas textiles and mantles met their match in the pictorial wealth of this culture's pottery. This culture has earned worldwide fame for its mysterious figures drawn in the desert known as the Nazca Lines.


Mochica (200 -700CE)
This culture developed in the Moche valley near Trujillo, expanding over most of the valleys on the Northern Coast. They built the monumental Temples of the Moon and Sun, and were skilled potters who depicted the human figure, their social life, their sexual practices and their beliefs with great realism. They were also outstanding goldsmiths, as proved by the attire discovered in the tomb of the Lord of Sipan.


Wari (700 - 1200CE)
This culture developed in Wari, 22 kilometers (14 miles) north of Ayacucho, dominating a very large area. It was originally influenced by Tiahuanaco (0 - 1,000 CE), a culture that developed southeast of Lake Titicaca in what is now Bolivia. It is notorious for the construction of roads and urban centers as well as its artistic pottery and textiles.


Chimu (800 - 1470CE)
This culture developed in practically the same area on the northern coast occupied by its predecessors, the Mochica culture. Chan Chan, its capital, is the largest mud-brick citadel dating back to the Pre-Hispanic era. These people were brilliant metallurgists. They were conquered by the Incas.


Lambayeque (900 - 1300CE)
The main seats of this culture were the valleys surrounding the city of Chiclayo on the northern coast. Batán Grande was the main religious and administrative center. This is the source of most of the wealth that gave Peru the image of a gold-producing country. This culture was absorbed by the Chimu culture.


Chachapoya (700 -1500CE)
This culture developed in the Utcubamba basin, between the Huallaga and Marañon rivers, in the area known as the Amazon Andes in the department of Amazonas. They built cities, fortresses and burial grounds on steep rocky peaks, the most prominent being Kuélap, which is often compared to Machu Picchu. They were dominated by the Incas.


The Inca Period has been broken into two periods, the first known as the Legendary Inca and existed 1200 to 1438CE. The second period was known as the Expansion and existed from 1460 to 1532CE. Architecture and engineering were sciences that the Incans excelled at. During their intensive expansion throughout the highlands and the coast which lasted less than 100 years, they conquered kingdoms and domains, forming an empire that extended from Colombia to the north of Chile and the northwest of Argentina. They built irrigation canals, roads, benched terraces, fortresses, palaces, and temples. The constellation of ruins located in the Cusco region is a compendium of these arts, including the famous citadel of Machu Picchu.


Colonial Period
This period lasted from 1532 to 1821. It began when Peru was conquered by the Spaniards and ended with the Declaration of Independence by José de San Martín. During this period, the social, productive and political relations of the Incas were broken down and the Peruvian Viceroyship was established, with a jurisdiction that during the first two centuries covered a large part of South America.


The new economic structure was based on the large-scale exploitation of minerals, particularly silver, using native manpower under deplorable conditions. The trade monopoly allowed Spain the exclusivity to supply products to its colonies, to which end the ports of Seville (Spain), Veracruz (Mexico), and Callao (Peru) were set up. Consequently, Lima, the capital of the Viceroyship, became the commercial hub of South America.


Farming and livestock-raising were other important activities that gave rise to land ownership and textile mills. New techniques were introduced like ploughs drawn by oxen, as well as new crops such as sugarcane, rice, grapes and olives alongside the native cotton fields on the coast. In the highlands, corn and potatoes were alternated with wheat and barley. Furthermore, apples, pears, peaches, quinces, vegetables and legumes, such as lettuces, cabbages, carrots, radishes, as well as variety of flowers were acclimatized.


The main mining centers were located in Castrovirreyna, Cerro de Pasco, Huancavelica, Puno, and Potosí, which is now located in Bolivia, with 160 thousand inhabitants in 1650. Business activities gave rise to a Creole bourgeoisie that settled in Lima, Trujillo, Arequipa and Cusco.


With the benefits obtained from mining and commercial activities, the cultural and artistic life gained relevance. In 1551, San Marcos was founded as the first university in the Americas. Institutions and the Spanish version of western values were disseminated under the protection of the Catholic church, which intended to do away with idolatries and expand its evangelizing work. The Orders that arrived were the Dominicans (1532), the Mercedaries (1533), the Franciscans (1534), the Augustinians (1551), and the Jesuits (1568). They built temples and convents that were also useful for organizing the civil, social, and cultural life in the cities, as all the hospitals, universities, royal schools, seminaries and colleges depended on them. Small churches and parishes also sprung up in remote villages.


The need to decorate the churches marked the development of painting, sculpture, silver work and related arts: goldsmithing, carpentry, silversmithing, locksmith work. Outstanding were the carvings on altars, altarpieces, pulpits, choir stands, chairs, masonry, carved ceiling panels that adorned ceilings and vaults, whereas the skirting boards of the cloisters and archways of the main temples were covered with glazed tiles. Portraits, frescoes and murals were promoted. A group of Italian painters arrived, prominent among them the Jesuit priest Bernardo Bitti (1548-1610), whose presence laid the foundation of American, colonial art.


European techniques and styles and old world models left their mark in religious and civil buildings (manor houses, public walkways, military strongholds). In the first temples Renaissance, Mudejar and Gothic components were alternated. Since the seventeenth century, the Baroque style predominated as the colonial art par excellence, together with its variations (Churrigueresque, Plateresque and Rococo) and towards the end of the eighteenth century an intensive period of neoclassical reforms became apparent. The incorporation of native artists who initially served as apprentices and the demand for new materials gave rise to mestizo architecture and paintings, which were mainly on display in the churches built in the southern Andes and in the Cusco School canvases that appeared around 1650.


The economic decadence began during the eighteenth century. Mining production declined, huge plagues affected the crops and violent earthquakes occurred, such as the one in 1746 that destroyed Lima. Furthermore, the Viceroyships created in New Granada and Buenos Aires and the Captaincy General in Chile resulted in the loss of territories and the suppression of the economic privileges enjoyed by the Peruvian Viceroyship. In 1781 the great rebellion of Tupac Amaru in Cusco caused a serious shock to the colonial structure. The racial complexities and the huge differences between social groups prevented the masses from gaining autonomy. In 1821, Peru gained its independence from Spain, thanks to the combined efforts of the Argentine armies in the South commanded by José de San Martín.


Republican Period
After independence, there was a period of anarchy and internal fighting. Together with the abolition of slavery, the most significant events during the second half of the century were the guano boom and the war with Chile. Exports of guano, a natural fertilizer comprised of seabirds' droppings, created enormous wealth that made it possible to finance the first modernization process of Lima and boosted the development of the sugar and cotton mills in the large farms on the northern coast, which were thriving with the arrival of Chinese migrants. The War of the Pacific between Peru and Chile took place between 1878 and 1883, at the end of which the country was invaded and Lima was occupied. The subsequent crisis caused by the defeat gave rise to movements that strongly criticized the social organization.


A new cycle of growth began towards the end of the nineteenth century and during the first three decades of the twentieth century, this time based on cotton and sugar exports from the coast, minerals from the central highlands, oil from the north and rubber from the jungle, produced initially with the participation of English capital and then with American capital, together with groups of national exporters. This type of economy created employment for farm workers on the coast, miners in the highlands and, to a lesser extent, industrial workers in Lima and some other cities on the coast. However, the benefits did not reach the large masses of highland peasants who continued living in their old communities and traditional farms. The expansion of the road network, goods markets, public services, the progress of light industries, as well as the improved sanitary conditions and vaccination campaigns that started raising life expectancy rates, altered the fixation on land and changed the physiognomy of the country. The extraordinary population growth rate which exceeded 3% a year occurred at the same time as the crisis in the countryside that prompted a massive migration to the cities on the coast, particularly Lima, which enjoyed the benefits of a new stage of growth from the late forties until well into the sixties. Despite the crises of the next two decades and thanks to the combined effects of external drives and internal reforms, Peru has begun a sustained economic recovery in recent years, resulting in a continuous growth of the GDP which reached 8% in 2006.