December 11 2013

Lima, Where Your Neighbor is Often a Monumental Archaeological Site

Lima is a city of over eight million people that sprawls over an area just under 3,000 square kilometers encompassing valleys, desert, wetlands and forests, among other geographical features. A bird’s eye view reveals that, with the exception of the mountains and rivers, many of these geographic features have been flattened to create a level canvas on which the city was built.

However, among these tamed geographic features, the city’s modern infrastructure and buildings, and its historical buildings, there are many large beige-colored features that do not look modern, yet are not the work of nature. These are the city’s archaeological sites, known locally as huacas, the material remains of thousands of years of occupation and development of the land that is now occupied by the city. These weathered huacas are the buildings constructed and used by the societies of the pre-Hispanic period, the people who lived in the area before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, who founded the city in the sixteenth century. The expansion of Lima during the nineteenth and twentieth century involved the partial and total destruction of many of these huacas, yet many still remain as part of the urban landscape. One of the best-known of these sites is called Pucllana, located in the district of Miraflores.

New apartment buildings slowly replace the old chalets near Pucllana, Lima, Peru

Pucllana, which currently contains an archaeological research centre, an open-air museum and a restaurant, is a huaca that both shaped and was shaped by the city that surrounds it. For many decades Pucllana was seen by many as a dusty ruin, a wasteland, and there was much interest in demolishing the structure in order to develop the land for housing. For much of the twentieth century, there were few people who advocated for the preservation of this site, most notably archaeologists like Julio C. Tello. After several decades of conflicts and negotiations between landowners, real-estate developers, archaeologists, neighbors, and the municipality, a formal long-term archaeological program was established in 1980, and the site was converted into an open-air museum.

Although the city around Pucllana still retains many traces of its middle-class origins, the area is showing many signs of gentrification. An upscale restaurant replaced a corner store, known locally as a bodega. Shiny SUV’s and large tour buses share the roads with Volkswagen Beetles. Fancy new apartment buildings have replaced mid-century chalets. Yet the area still remains pleasantly pedestrian friendly, in spite of occasional cars zooming by at high speeds. A sidewalk now surrounds the perimeter of the archaeological site, integrating it with the street, and a small triangular park has become a popular gathering space. There is no doubt that the transformation of Pucllana itself was instrumental in catalyzing the urban transformation of this part of Miraflores.

A Volkswagen Beetle sits among the fancier cars of the Pucllana neighborhood, Lima

 Walkers and joggers around Pucllana, Lima, Peru

The transformation of the Pucllana neighborhood will also have significant consequences that many will not welcome. Rapid and unregulated gentrification tends to displace the area’s original, usually lower-income, residents and change the character of the neighborhood. An increase in density and the growing popularity of Pucllana as a tourist destination has brought in more traffic and noise.

The urban neighbourhood of the Pucllana archaeological site, Lima, Peru

What role should historical and archaeological sites play in our cities at the neighborhood scale? How can urban planning be used to encourage urban revitalization without the negative effects of gentrification?

Credits: Images by Rosabella Alvarez-Calderon. Data linked to sources.

Rosabella Alvarez-Calderón

Rosabella Alvarez-Calderon hails from Lima, Peru, a vibrant and noisy city with a rich history, ancient archaeological sites, Colonial churches, old art-deco cinemas, sprawling shanty towns (often decorated with posters in neon colours advertising a chicha or cumbia concert), glass skyscrapers, and a colorful public transportation systems that requires a sense of adventure, an instinct for navigation, and very short limbs to use successfully. She is a professional archaeologist who spent several years working in prehispanic and historical sites both in Lima and in northern Peru before coming to the United States, where she obtained a Master in Design Studies degree, with a focus on Critical Conservation, from Harvard University´s Graduate School of Design. She is currently based in the Boston area, where she combines her background and interest in archaeology with the study of how cities are formed and transformed, the nature and use of public spaces, adaptive and transformative reuse, and how can a city´s historical footprint, buildings and open spaces contribute to creating a sense of place and to inspire new urban design. Rosabella also enjoys exploring Boston and nearby towns on her beautiful 1975 blue folding bike and thinks of herself as “an archaeologist of the modern city”

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 11th, 2013 at 9:30 am and is filed under History/Preservation, Land Use, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


3 Responses to “Lima, Where Your Neighbor is Often a Monumental Archaeological Site”

  1. Toto Alvarez-Calderon Says:

    Loved your article, Rosabella!!

    Best wishes,


  2. Untapped Staff Picks: The Day The A-Bomb Was Dropped on the Bronx, Cornell Tech Developer Selected, Norway’s Vertical Cemetery | Untapped Cities Says:

    […] Lima, Where Your Neighbor is Often an Archeological Site [Global Site Plans] […]

  3. Peter Says:

    Archaelogical sites integrating into a city’s fabric is common in many areas of the world, Rome for example. These ruins and excavations are usually not reachable physically but provide a visual connection to the city’s past.

    The park and the excavation both act as economic catalysts, but the park is occupyable whereas the excavation acts more as a museum piece (look, but don’t touch). Would be interesting to see opportunities for more public spaces created around the archaeological site or in conjunction with it. Interesting article, thanks.

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