Los Barrios Altos

March 29th, 2007

Fine architecture, grand buildings, horse drawn carriages ferrying around the rich. This affluent area is adjacent to the city centre laid out by the conquistador Pizarro and dates back to not long after he founded it.

The Spanish destroyed the indigenous communities in the area, notably the Limay, forced them into Catholicism and built the Santa Ana church over their settlement. The Spanish built around the church and the area became known as the District of Santa Ana. Further east new towns were built for the indigenous so that the Spanish would be better able to control and convert them. Around Lima and Santa Ana walls were built to defend against hostile other locals and pirates. Santa Ana had an entrance where Cinco Esquinas, a junction of 5 streets, is located in the centre of what will soon be called the Barrios Altos.

When the city expanded in the 1800s, Santa Ana and all the towns to the east of it were encompassed into the city. The suburbs were replaced by denser colonial streets with fine colonial buildings. The area was given the general name of the Barrios Altos, the high neighbourhoods, as the area slowly slopes up towards the mountains. In these years, Lima really was the City of the Kings as it was known at the time. Lima had no problems with crime or poverty, it’s population consisted almost entirely of rich Spaniards and Spanish descendants. The Barrios Altos were the pride of the city.

Since the 1900s the rich have moved out to the new suburbs and the poor have moved in to the old. The best examples of colonial architecture in Lima are now in a decomposing state, many barely standing. With little money to spend on restoration these buildings are likely to remain like this until they collapse.

The photos attached to this blog show the current state of the Barrios Altos, now one of the poorest areas of the city. It’s now a place of decay and poverty but also one of strong community. It’s not as dangerous as people say it is, I wasn’t robbed or hassled in my many hours walking through the old streets, on the contrary, people waved, smiled and wished me a good day. If more tourists would visit this area, perhaps some of the money that the Government does have for restoration will be spent here, to save the buildings and also improve the quality of life for the residents.

Photos –

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