• Colombia!

    Colombia: Caribbean Sea coast. Go Now!

    Although most of the people live inland, Colombia also has its share of coastline along the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea (pictured). Go Now!

  • Ecuador!

    Ecuador: Sally Lightfoot Crab. Go Now!

    The Galapagos Islands and Ecuador are home to incredible wildlife, such as the famous Galapagos Turtle and the lesser known, but more common Red Rock or Sally Lightfoot crab (pictured). Begin Your Journey!

  • Chile!

    Chile: Torres del Paine National Park. Go Now!

    The Andes dominate much of Chile, including the breath-taking Torres del Paine National Park (pictured). However, the country also hosts the world's driest desert and a thriving metropolis. Begin Your Journey!

  • Venezuela!

    Venezuela: Los Roques. Go Now!

    Rooted in Europe, Venezuela boasts an impressive history, culture, and beauty, including the Caribbean Coast (pictured). Explore Venezuela!

  • Bolivia!

    Bolivia: Salt flats. Go Now!

    This hidden gem is full of surprises, from the impressive salt flats (pictured) to the migrating flamingos. It also clings to the most historic indigenous culture on the continent. Explore Bolivia!

Architecture of Peru

Peruvian Architecture - Nazca Lines
Nazca Lines

Peru is known as the home to one of the world's most impressive architectural feats: the Incan city of Machu Picchu. However, Peru offers much more than just this city as the Incans built much more, the Spanish have numerous colonial cities to boast about, and other cities older than Machu Picchu are also worth exploring.

Prior to the Incans massive construction efforts came the Cumbe Mayo Aqueduct. This structure was built in about 1000 BC and was constructed, apparently, to collect water for sustainable farming, showing the top priority in the region at the time. This is one of the world's oldest aqueducts and truly symbolic of the people at the time as their focus was on farming.

A second significant architectural achievement from the time period prior to the Incan dominance was the construction of the Nazca Lines between about 400-650 AD. These designs create animals, such as spiders, monkeys, hummingbirds, fish, and more and can only be seen in their full form from the sky as each can stretch for miles from one end to the other. They are formed by relatively simple means as the people simply removed the top layer of rocks to expose a differing colored rock layer beneath it. Since they are in the desert, plants and animals haven't really disturbed these designs in hundreds of years.

Peruvian Architecture - Reed boat and house on Lake Titicaca
Reed boat & house on Lake Titicaca

Also prior to the Incans came the ruins in Chan Chan, which began being built in about 850 AD. This Chimor city thrived until about 1470 when the Incans took the city and left it in ruins. Today the former adobe city only has stone fragments remaining, but these stone fragments form citadels, temples, homes, fortifications, and irrigation systems.

A final group of people with a distinct architectural style prior to the Incans were the Aymara people in the Lake Titicaca region. Most structures in this region were made from the reeds from Lake Titicaca and even today there are "floating" homes on Lake Titicaca made of reeds. These homes are often times entirely made of reeds and they literally float on the water, much like a boat, but anchored into the lake bed.

The Incans began building great structures in Peru in about the 1400s (although they lived their earlier, few remains from that time exist in good condition). The number of ruins the Incans left behind is numerous and ruins can be found throughout the country. However a few of the more impressive ruins are those in Ollantaytambo, Cuzco, and Machu Picchu.

Ollantaytambo is a small town that best displays urban planning by the Incans, although the stone structures remaining are also very impressive. Cuzco is the former capital of the Incan Empire so not surprisingly most of their best architecture is in this city. Nearly the entire city center is rooted in Incan structures and some still remain nearly in their entirety. The Sun Temple, the street of Hatunrumiyoc, and the street of Inca Roca are all very impressive and maintain numerous aspects of Incan architecture. Sadly, most of the historic architecture in the city can only be viewed in pieces as the Spanish turned the city into a colonial center, either destroying or building over many Incan buildings.

Undoubtedly the height of Incan architecture is the city of Machu Picchu. This city is impressive for more than just its architecture though. The city displays impressive buildings, but also irrigation systems, urban planning, and farmlands clinging to cliffs; in other words a city built around nature using the natural landscape. The Temple of the Sun is perhaps the most impressive structure in the entire city as the stone work and positioning of the building seem to be the pinnacle of Incan architecture.

With the Spanish came new architectural styles and some destruction of earlier buildings. The city of Cuzco suffered the most from Spanish colonization, but other cities also arose, such as Lima, which is primarily in the colonial style.

The colonial style in Peru follows a number of different patterns. From the 1500s into the 1800s, the time of Spanish rule in Peru, a number of European styles were imported from Spain. A couple Renaissance buildings arrived, in particular the Santa Clara Church in Cuzco. Baroque was also popular, in fact much more popular, as Lima is home to the San Francisco Convent and Church of the Compania, both in the style. Arequipa is also home to some of the most authentic Baroque buildings, including the Church of San Agustin and the Church of Santa Rosa.

Most Spanish colonial buildings changed with new influences, but many of the churches and palaces were based on Baroque architecture throughout the colonial period. The cities built under the Spanish also tended to follow traditional Spanish city layouts, which were built on a grid with the town's church and governor's palace in the central square. This layout, along with the Baroque-inspired buildings can be found in the center of numerous Peruvian cities today, most notably in Lima and Arequipa. Lima is truly a Spanish colonial capital architecturally, while Arequipa has more diversity as it generally used local stones and materials to give it a more unique look and feel.

Another excellent city to see colonial Spanish architecture is the city of Trujillo. This city rose in prominence and wealth at the end of Spanish rule so boasts a combination of Spanish architecture as well as more authentic Peruvian architecture still in its infancy (which simply imitated Spanish architecture in most ways). The city is known for its houses, of which there are many that are impressive both inside and out.

Struggling with independence, Peru built mostly in popular European styles in the 1800s, most notably in the neo-Classical style. Again Lima became home to most of these buildings as it was the capital of the newly independent country and the Plaza San Martin is the most impressive of these structures. In a completely opposite direction, the city of Iquitos also rose in prominence during this time, but gained architectural influence from Brazil via the Amazon River. Portuguese tiles decorate the many residences along the river, most of which were built during this time.

In the 1900s and into the 2000s the architecture in Peru has paled in comparison to the structures of its past. None-the-less, new buildings have been built in numerous styles. Many houses have been simple in design and layout, but have used modern building techniques. Modern and post-modern buildings can be found in Lima and other large cities, but not in the numbers these structures are found in many other major world capitals.

This page was last updated: May, 2014