In the colonial era, Lima was the seat of power for the viceroyalty of Peru. It held sway over a swath of land that extended from Panama to Chile. With power came money, as is evident by the grand scale on which everything was built. The finely carved doorways of some mansions stand two stories high. At least half a dozen churches would be called cathedrals in any other city. And the Plaza de Armas, the sprawling main square,
But history has not always been kind to the neighborhood known as El Centro. Earthquakes struck in 1687 and 1746, leveling many of the buildings surrounding the Plaza de Armas. Landmarks, such as the Iglesia de San Augustín, were nearly destroyed by artillery fire in skirmishes that have plagued the capital. But more buildings are simply the victims of neglect. It's heartbreaking to see the wall on a colonial-era building buckling, or an intricately carved balcony beyond repair. But the city government has made an effort to restore its historic center. After years of decline, things are steadily improving.
An unhurried visit to the historic district's main attractions takes a full day, with at least an hour devoted to the Museo de Arte Nacional, though you can see a good bit of it all in half a day if you're rushed. Even if you're short on time, don't bypass the guided tour of the underground catacombs of the Convento de San Francisco, and don't miss Plaza San Martin.