Thank you to Kenneth Maclean, one of our Collections Team volunteers, for writing this month’s Collections Corner about this newly uncovered map of Lima in Peru.

Recent cataloguing of RSGS maps uncovered an interesting map of Lima. Dated 1908, the Plano de Lima – scale 1:10,000, and measuring 61cm x 61cm – is colourful and detailed. It allows comparison of the relatively limited areal extent of early 20th century Lima with the contemporary sprawling metropolis that is Greater Lima.  An insert on the map of Greater Lima shows the extent of the city in 1908.

The 1908 map depicts a city that developed as imperial capital of the once extensive viceroyalty of Peru. Unlike the Inca capital of Cuzco, high in the Andes, Lima was founded in 1535 on the Pacific coastal plain by the Spanish conquistadors and built on a level site beside the River Rimac. Typically, Lima’s layout conforms to the Iberian model of urban planning with a grid-iron street pattern focused on the central square (Plaza Central). It marks the site of Lima’s most prestigious buildings which reflected the city’s functions: as an administrative centre (the Palacio de Gobierno); as a religious centre (the cathedral); as an educational centre (the university dates from 1550); and as a commercial centre with arcades of shops around the square. Many of these features are confirmed from the map’s key detailing numerous public buildings, banks, churches and convents, markets, hospitals, and, on the outskirts, various Cuarteles (ie barracks eg Cuartel de Cabelleria), a reflection of the city’s military function. What the map does not convey is the socio-economic character of Lima’s housing, but studies confirm that, as the residential squares receded outwards, the quality of housing diminished from the centrally-located elite homes towards the poorer, peripheral dwellings, adjacent to agricultural land in the form of large haciendas (estates) eg Hacienda de “Azcona” and smaller huertas (market gardens). What the map clearly displays, however, are five railway and tramline systems. These include the rail and electric tramline links between Lima and its port of Callao, along what becomes a linear axis of industrial growth, and the Linea Transandina a La Oroya railway, completed in 1893. The latter line exemplifies those ‘heroic railways’ that bridged gorges and ascended, via tunnels and switch-backs, to heights not contemplated elsewhere: in this case, to link the Andean copper and lead smelting settlement of La Oroya with Lima.

Today, the central square remains at Lima’s core, but it is a city markedly altered. Especially since the 1960s, Greater Lima has dramatically spread over the coastal Atacama desert and encroached the steep slopes of adjacent Andean foothills. Lima’s population in 1908 was around 250,000 people; at present, it is the fourth largest city in Latin America, and home to over a third of Peru’s 32 million inhabitants. Lima’s urban primacy with greater economic opportunities, and appeal to the young, ambitious and single explain its attraction.  “Push” factors include rural poverty and poor health and educational services; the limited size of peasant land holdings in the Andes; low per-capita incomes; and fear of the Marxist terrorist movement- Sendero Luminoso, during the violencia from 1980.

Greater Lima map, created by Kenneth Maclean RSGS Collections Team

Many of the migrants have been housed in the squatter settlements or “barriadas”- on sites which include coastal dunes, mountain foothills and river terrace gravels. Such settlements are enormous; indeed, some have grown to over 300,000 eg Villa El Salvador. The character of their housing ranges from reed-mat shacks to one-and two-storeyed adobe and brick houses. Initially, their sites were occupied illegally, but thanks to pressure from the migrants, especially the women, and self-help schemes, infrastructure provision especially water supplies, lighting and sewerage has improved.  One “barriada” which was legally approved by the municipal authorities from the beginning was Villa El Salvador, details of which can be seen in the map of Greater Lima.