Peru‘s colourful capital is the political, economical and spiritual heart of the country. It’s also known as the Gastronomical Capital of the Americas, thanks to its Spanish, Andean and Asian influences. Thousands flock here every month to embark on the iconic Inca Trail, but how much do you know about the city beyond good food and ancient ruins? From pirates to black vultures, here are a few interesting facts about Lima that might surprise you.
Interesting facts about Lima
1. Lima is the fifth largest city in South America
Lima is the largest city in Peru and the fifth-largest city in South America. Located in the valley of the Chillón, Rímac and Lurín rivers, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it covers a total area of 2,672 square km (1,032 square miles).
Around ten million people live in the greater Lima area, making it the second most populated city in South America. Almost a third of Peru’s entire population lives here too.
2. Lima is nicknamed “The City of Kings”
When the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzaro founded Lima on January 18, 1535, he called it “The City of Kings” or “La Ciudad de Los Reyes”. Some say this is because he discovered it during the important Catholic holiday, Three Kings Day. However, others claim that he actually named the city in honour of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and his mother, Joanna of Castile.
3. Lima is the second-largest desert city in the world
Second only to Cairo in Egypt, Lima is one of the largest desert cities in the world. It is situated on a desert strip squeezed between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains. It gets around 80% of its water from the Rimac River, which runs across downtown Lima, in part thanks to canals built by ancient civilizations. At least 8% of the population has no access to drinking water.
Interestingly, Lima never actually experiences heavy rain – only drizzle.
4. Lima is popular with black vultures
Look up to the sky and you’ll likely see black vultures circling over the city. While they have a bad reputation, these black vultures – known locally as gallinazos – are actually cleaning up the city. In fact, in 2016, the city launched a campaign to clean up the streets by kitting out the much-maligned birds with GoPro video cameras and GPS trackers to reduce fly-tipping and illegal dumping.
5. Lima had some serious issues with pirates in the past
By the 16th century, Lima had become a wealthy trading centre, which made it a target for pirates. Even Sir Francis Drake tried to rescue fellow buccaneers who were imprisoned in Lima in 1579. Viceroys built the Real Felipe Fortress, one of the most expensive buildings ever commissioned in the Spanish colonies, to deal with the issue.
But one of the most famous pirating stories dates back to the early 19th century. During the Wars of Independence, Spain needed to evacuate the city of Lima. But what to do with the city’s wealth? In 1820, the Viceroy decided to transport the city’s treasures, including life-sized gold statues, jewels and candlesticks amounting to as much as $60 million to Mexico for safekeeping. But for Captain William Thompson, who commanded the ship transporting the riches to Mexico, couldn’t resist. He cut the guards’ throats, threw their bodies overboard and headed to Costa Rica. Authorities managed to capture the crew and hanged them for piracy. Cook escaped fate by agreeing to take the Spanish to the buried treasure. He managed to escape and was never found.
6. Lima is home to one of the world’s smallest churches
The Chapel Our Lady of the Rosary – Nuestra Señora del Rosario – located in Rimac in downtown Lima, is probably the smallest chapel in the world. The pint-sized religious institution measures 4.8 metres (16 ft) wide, 11.8 metres (39 ft long) and 9.7 metres (32 ft) tall. The church dates back to the 17th century.
It manages to pack a lot into its diminutive size though, including an altar, vault, pulpit and towers. It’s open from Monday–Saturday from 08:00–12:30 and 16:00–18:30, and on Sundays from 08:00–12:00.
7. Lima is home to one of the oldest universities in the Americas
The National University of San Marcos is the oldest continuously operating university in the Americas. Founded in 1551 by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, it is the most prestigious university in the country.
Originally, Juan Bautista de la Roca ran it as a monastic institution. It began with classes in theology and arts, then introduced law and medicine. Today, it has 20 faculties, 62 academic schools and boasts Nobel Prize winners, such as Mario Vargas Llosa, among its alumni.