Plan of Lima

Date: 1758
Owner: John Carter Brown Library, Brown University
Source Type: Images


This 1758 map of Lima illustrates clearly the regular grid structure of straight streets moving out from a central square that was the hallmark of Latin American cities founded during the colonial era. The conquistador Francisco Pizarro founded this so called "City of Kings" in 1535 on the site of an indigenous settlement. The most obvious reason why he chose this spot to build the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru was that, as the Inca well knew, it had the significant natural advantages of fresh water, timber, and access to the sea. Yet the symbolic reasons for building Lima at this site were no less important than the practical ones. The deliberate changes to the landscape, such as the grid structure and the cathedral built directly on top of a razed Inca temple, all sent a clear message that Spaniards and Spanish civilization were now the dominant force in the region.

The city expanded gradually throughout the colonial period until1746, when Lima was devastated by one of the worst earthquakes in world history. Over 10,000 people died from the disaster itself, yet it is believed that even more died in the months following the quake from lack of food and the diseases that festered amidst the many unremoved corpses in the streets. It took Lima several decades to recover from the earthquake.

One of the lasting effects of the quake was that it destroyed the very healthcare structure needed to tend the sick and injured populace. In the mid eighteenth century, Lima had eleven hospitals and a handful of hospices, orphanages, and houses of deposit for wayward women. At the time, hospitals were largely responsible for their own funding (through renting out properties or selling medicines, clothes, and even eggs), and the economic aftermath of the 1746 quake left most hospitals bankrupt.

Lima's hospitals embodied the social divisions of race, class, and gender that were so prevalent in colonial Lima. Some hospitals were meant to serve only male Spaniards, others were for Indians, some for rich or poor women, and others for slaves and free blacks. The San Bartolome hospital, number 47 on this map, was for "negros y otras castas" and was originally built on the cheap because such institutions were primarily used for "dropping off" slaves that were so sick that they would soon die anyway. The shoddy construction meant that San Bartolome was completely destroyed by the quake and, being for blacks, it was one of the last hospitals to be rebuilt (finally finished in 1773).

References: Cahill, David. "Financing Healthcare in the Viceroyalty of Peru: The Hospitals of Lima in the Late Colonial Period." In The Americas, vol. 52, no. 2 (Oct., 1995), pp. 123-154.

Higgins, James. Lima: A Cultural History. New York, Oxford University Press, 2005.

CITATION: Plan of the city of Lima, Peru. In: Lopez de Vargas Machuca. Atlas geographico de la America septentrional y meridional. Madrid: Casa de Antonio Ssanz Plazuela de la Calle de la Paz, 1758. Accession no. 06599. Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.