A Look into Peruvian Colonial Architecture
What colosseums are to Rome, balconies are to Lima. The Spanish colonized Peru in 1572, and the balconies of Lima hold distinct Spanish influence. More than 1,600 balconies were built during the Spanish reign and make the center of Lima so distinctive. Each an example of colonial style, the lavish wooden balconies hold deep ties to Peru’s heritage. They have become a symbol of the country’s colonization and history, and add a beautiful addition to the streets. Here we look at the balconies of Lima in more detail and share some images from the most impressive examples seen on our travels.
A Showcase of Peruvian Colonial Style
When the Spanish colonized Peru in the sixteenth century, Renaissance architecture was initially brought over from Europe. The Spaniards reigned until the nineteenth century, during which time European style was evolving. As such, the ornate balconies of Lima added to traditional Incan architecture façades were built in many styles. They are symbolic of the Spanish conquering Latin America and showcase the evolution of European architecture at the time.
The majority of the balconies of Lima were erected during the beginning of the Spanish reign. As such, many are influenced by Renaissance and Baroque styles. The grandeur and symmetry of each hold distinct Renaissance ideologies, with many façades adopting harmonious geometric shapes. Looking at the exuberant detailing on each, Baroque influence is also evident. Each wooden balcony is extravagantly decorated with intricate carvings, all beautifully unique from one another. During the eighteenth century, the Rococo style permeated Lima. While maintaining the elaborate ornamentation, this saw the architecture take a more light and playful turn.
A Portrayal of Spanish Colonial Hierarchy
The balconies of Lima were not solely for aesthetic appeal. Although undoubtedly beautiful, they served a social function; to protect women of nobility from the gaze of others. The balconies’ enclosed style gave these women the chance to step outside and see the city while remaining hidden. This enclosed style is inherited from the Mashrabiya tradition of Moorish architecture. In Arab and Muslim countries, the Mashrabiya too offers privacy when viewing the streets below. In Lima, they act as “streets in the sky” that only the elite can walk on.
As such, the balconies of Lima act as a portrayal of the Spanish colonial hierarchy. Each patio is a symbol of wealth and power. When standing on the balconies, the inhabitants are quite literally looking down on the lower social classes. Moreover, the grandeur of each balcony further became symbolic of the status of the building’s inhabitants—the more elaborate the design, the more affluent its owners. One of the finest examples is on the Archbishop’s Palace. This building showcases six balconies of different styles on its façade, each elegant and sophisticated.
Recognition of Historical Value
Over the years, sadly, many of the balconies of Lima have fallen victim to neglect, earthquakes, and fire. Moreover, the city went through a period of rapid modernization in the 1950s. During this time, many of the balconies were purposefully deconstructed to make space for contemporary architecture. As social norms had changed, there was no more room for these ornamental additions to the buildings. People showed little care for conserving existing structures, and the balconies of Lima slowly started to disappear.
However, people are becoming increasingly aware of the historical value of these balconies. The city’s historic center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. Between 1996 and 2002, the project “Adopt a Balcony” further helped their salvation and preservation. These efforts have been successful, with the abundance of balconies adding undeniable character and harmony to Lima. With their deep ties to the country, each is more than simply a seductive example of architecture. It’s a showcase of Lima’s colonization, a portrayal of social status, and a demonstration of the evolution of Peruvian design.