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History of Peru- Millenary Culture

From the Earliest Times to Inca Rule

Chimu Peru's earliest inhabitants can be traced to migrants reaching the North American continent from Asia. After crossing the Behring Strait and slowly pushing southward, some groups eventually settled along the coast and in the highlands and tropical forest regions of present-day Peru. The people of each of these areas witnessed the development of a variety of cultures over thousands of years.

Highly developed communities flourished long before the rise of the Inca empire and left tangible signs of their presence. Their chronology extends from the year 8000 B.C., or even before, to 1532 A.D., when Peru was conquered by Francisco Pizarro.

Remnants of Peru's early civilisations include the ruins of Chan Chan, capital of the ancient Chimú Kingdom; the pottery and textiles of the Nazca culture, in whose territory lie the mysterious Nazca lines, which can only be seen from the air and which will perhaps one day be deciphered; the Paracas culture, whose textiles have retained their splendour intact after thousands of years; the Tiahuanaco culture, which flourished around Lake Titicaca over an area covering parts of modern Peru and Bolivia; and the highland Chavín, Chimú, Mochica, Labayeque and Moche cultures along Peru's northern coast, where the recent discovery of the "Lord of Sipán" funeral site has been described as the single most momentous archaeological find since Tutankhamun.

The Incas

Macchu Picchu The various cultures which flourished in ancient Peru either disappeared or were vanquished by the Incas, whose appearance is recorded at the end of the 12th century. The Incas made remarkable advances in numerous branches of engineering, as attested by their buildings, roads, bridges, aqueducts and monumental sites such as the fortress of Sacsayhuamán and the citadel of Machu Picchu. The Incas' hydraulic expertise included techniques for converting mist into water for irrigation, something which enabled them to farm extensively what today is Peru's arid coastline.

Their language, Quechua, is one of Peru's official languages in the areas where it prevails, alongside Spanish. Evidence from quipus, or knotted strings, suggests that the Incas also processed a writing system, though its Texicography still puzzles scholars.

Founding the Empire

Chan Chan The Inca Empire initially established itself in an area comprising the basins of Lake Titicaca and the Urubamba River. The heart of Inca power and the seat of government were situated in the middle Urubamba valley, the so-called Sacred Valley or Valley of Cuzco.

Several oral traditions acquired by the Spaniards from the quipucamayos (imperial officials trained in reading quipu strings) contain accounts of the Empire's foundation. The best-known among these are the legend of Manco Capac (the first ruling Inca) and Mama Ocllo (his wife) and the myth of the Ayar Brothers.

In the first of them, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo travel from Lake Titicaca to Cusco, where at the base of the Huanacaure Mountain, they founded the Inca Empire. In the second myth, four brothers and their four wives leave from the Tamputoco Mountain to find a suitable place to start a kingdom. On the way two of the brothers turn into stones and one of them is left in a cave, leaving the remaining brother –Manco Cápac- to found the Inca Empire.

There were fourteen Inca sovereigns, their rule covering a period of almost three hundred years.

Under Pachacútec, the most eminent Inca king, the Empire attained its greatest territorial extension, stretching over parts of present-day Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina in addition to the whole of Peru. Pachacutec unified the empire by adopting a single language, Quechua, and building an impressive network of roads - the Inca Trail - providing rapid communications between the realm's main locations.

It is said that during this Inca's reign that Prince Inca Túpac Yupanqui organised a maritime expedition that eventually reached Polynesia. Accounts of that voyage were collected by the chronicler Sarmiento de Gamboa and were vindicated, centuries later, by Thor Heyerdahl's 1947 Kontiki expedition, which sailed from el Callao port (next to Lima) to Polynesia in a similar raft following the same course as those used by the ancients Peruvians. The eminent Peruvian historian José Antonio del Busto has developed the theory of the Inca expedition to Oceania and has published the book “Túpac Yupanqui, Discoverer of Oceania” in 2006. Coincidentally, in March of that same year, Thor Heyerdahl’s grandson successfully repeated his ancestor’s expedition.

Under Spanish Rule


Templo Falico Incahuyo In 1532, the Inca or Tahuantisuyo Empire, as it was then called, fell before the Spanish conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro. The state, in fact, had already been weakened by a civil war which had broken out in 1529 as two rival brothers, Huáscar and Atahualpa, contended for power.

Pizarro captured Atahualpa in November 1532, in Cajamarca, and had him executed in July, 1533, after accusing him of ordering the murder of his own brother Huáscar. After defeating resistance by several Inca generals, Spanish rule established over the former empire of the Incas - a dominion that soon became the most powerful viceroyalty Spain was ever to posses overseas. It lasted until 1821.

The Republic

Independence The winds of liberty that led to the independence of the United States and the fall of the French monarchy in the late 18th Century did not spare the Spanish viceroyalties in the New World until early 19th century. Peru became an independent state in 1821. Lima had been the core center of the Hispanic colonial power in South America, so Peru was the last in South America to put an end to colonial domination. On 28 July 1821, Argentine patriot Jose de San Martin proclaimed the independence of Peru in Lima main square.

After patriotic support along the Coast, the Spaniards withdrew to the Peruvian Highlands, where they were defeated by a South American army - strengthened with the forces brought by Venezuelan patriot Simon Bolivar- in Ayacucho on 9 December 1824. That was the last battle fought against the Spanish dominion and the one which sealed the independence of the newborn Latin American Republics.

Officers and soldiers in the army of the liberator Antonio José de Sucre included patriots from all corners of Latin America. Most Peruvians fought in the Peruvian Legion, a battalion whose most distinguished officers were Ramón Castilla (who later, as President, abolished slavery in Peru as early as 1854) and Miguel San Román; all displayed heroic conduct on the battlefield.

Since achieving independence, Peru has promoted solidarity across the continent. Its government convened the Amphictyonic Congress that was held in Panama City in 1826. In 1851, on the initiative of President Ramón Castilla, Lima hosted the first Pan-American Conference. Similar events followed and eventually led to the Pan-American Union, the precursor of today's Organisation of American States (O.A.S.).

Throughout the republican era, Peru has sought to be one of the leading nations in Latin America in the domain of science and technology. Accordingly, South America got its first railroad when the line from Lima to Callao was opened in 1851. Begun in 1869 under the supervision of Enrique Meiggs, the rail line that winds its way across the Andes - and through Ticlio (Anticona) at 4,818 mt. above sea level - to Huancayo is a stunning feat of engineering. In Lima, the Exposition Palace was built on plans designed by A. Gustave Eiffel in 1872. Pedro Paulet Mostajo, a Peruvian aviation visionary, developed an innovative "torpedo plane". Another flight pioneer, Jorge Chávez in 1910 was the first to cross the Alps in a rudimentary monoplane. In Lima in 1911, Juan Bielovucich performed the first successful take off in Peru.

In the field of political thought, José Carlos Mariátegui and Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre had considerable influence in Peru and the rest of Latin America through much of the 20th Century. More recently on the international scene, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar served two successive terms as United Nations Secretary-General in the 80's. Also another distinguished Peruvian – José Luis Bustamante y Rivero – chaired the International Court at The Hague, whereas Víctor Andrés Belaúnde chaired the General Assembly of the United Nations in the 60's.

A significant number of Peruvians have gained international stature in literature and art. Painters include Francisco "Pancho" Fierro, Ignacio Merino, Francisco Laso, Teófilo Castillo, Jorge Vinatea Reinoso, Sérvulo Gutiérrez, Daniel Hernández, Ureta, Tilsa Tsuchiya, Gerardo Chávez, Fernando de Szyzslo and Enrique Polanco. Literature is adorned by Ricardo Palma, Abraham Vadelomar, César Vallejo, José Santos Chocano, Ciro Alegría, José María Arguedas, Martín Adán, Jorge Eduardo Eielson, Julio Ramón Ribeyro, Mario Vargas Llosa and Alfredo Bryce Echenique.

In 1969 Peru and other South American states set up the Andean Pact, a regional trade alliance officially located in Lima. Today the group comprises Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. In 2006 Chile re- joined the Group as an associate member and Venezuela temporarily left the process.

As elsewhere in Latin America, Peru has been a land where many people have sought refuge. Shortly before the turn of the century and after the First and Second World Wars, tides of migrants from Europe and Asia reached Peru, where their acceptance helped alleviate the harshness of economic conditions in the countries they had left behind.

Source: A Historical Profile, Current Facts and Tourist Information
Solari, Luis - Edizioni Progetto Gutenberg, Roma 1995.