20,000 Years of Civilization


St Francis Cathedral, Lima © Can Stock Photo / cathames

Meeting of Two Worlds

Inca and European cultures clashed when the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century. In 1532, Francisco Pizarro’s troops captured the Inca King Atahualpa in Cajamarca, an event that marked the decline of the Inca Empire.

In 1542, the Viceroyalty of Peru was formed, a dependency of the Spanish crown. The Viceroyalty’s territory included a large part of South America and existed for almost 200 years under the diverse forms of authoritative control. The Viceroyalty was consolidated in the 16th century by Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, who established the basis of the colonial economy: mita, a system of controlling the indigenous work force for mining and handicraft production. The mining of riches had a negative impact on the colonized Peruvian Indians, who saw their rights being restricted and their culture repressed. The reforms of the 18th century generated much discontent among many social sectors and successive rebellions flared up. The most serious indigenous uprising was led by Túpac Amaru II, who sparked the criollo movements that would eventually lead the push for independence throughout Spanish America.

Birth of the Peruvian State

In 1821, Peru was declared an independent country by José de San Martín, and in 1824 Simón Bolívar culminated the freedom process with the independence wars. As a nascent republic, during its first years Peru had to face economic crises and military governments which made it difficult to consolidate a new national spirit between the indigenous and mixed-race peoples.

In economic terms, there was a boom in guano, cotton and sugar production. Slavery was ended midway through the 19th century, although at the same time, the first waves of Chinese immigrants arrived to work in agriculture, which was followed by Manuel Pardo’s first civilian governments. At that time, the guano boom had come to an end and the national economy entered into crisis, as guano had been providing the country’s main income.

In 1879, Peru was defeated in a war with Chile. Racked by bankruptcy, this saw a new era of military governments, followed by a return to civilian rule. A period began which is known as the “Aristocratic Republic” based on an economy dominated by the land-owning elite. At this time, rubber production in the jungle reached its peak and an even wider gap opened between the capitalist elite and the rest of the population, who mainly lived off the land.