In the heart of Lima in the district of San Miguel is the Parque Leyendas. Besides holding the Lima Zoo, it also contains remnants of the largest pre-Columbian city in Central Peru. There are 14 large pyramidal structures and at least 50 smaller buildings remaining despite destruction by urban sprawl. Archaeologists estimate that the archaeological complex covered more than four million square meters. The grandest of these pyramids located within the park are the Huaca Cruz Blanca, Huaca la Cruz, Huaca Tres Palos, Huaca San Miguel, Huaca Middendorf and the Huaca la Palma. Scholars, scientists and archaeologists have visited the site since the 1870s with formal excavations starting in the 1920’s by Jacinto Jijón y Caamaño. The area containing the city was occupied from 600 BC until the Incan period around 1532 AD when it was deserted after the Spanish conquest. What remains now, was formally preserved in 1960 and made a part of Parque Leyendas in 1964.
Seven different cultures occupied the city in seven periods. They were, the Colina Tradition from (approximately 600 BC to 200 BC); the Blanco sobre Rojo Tradition (200 BC to 150 AD); the Lima Tradition (150 AD to 450 AD); the Lima and Nieveria Tradition (450 AD to 650 AD); the Pachacamac and Nieveria Tradition (650 AD to 750 AD); Ichma Tradition (900 AD to 1476 AD) and finally the Inca Tradition (1476 AD to 1532 AD). Note that the city was abandoned for about 150 years after 750 AD for unknown reasons. Each culture added to the existing complex and the size of the pyramids to suit different purposes, some adding paint and amazing friezes.
The Huaca Cruz Blanca is the only one open for tours at this point. You are allowed to enter and view the site from selected vantage points near the structure. There is also a small museum near the rear of this building. Regional chiefs or the “Curazago of Maranga” used this Huaca and it was an important administrative and ceremonial center. Major excavations were done on this Huaca in 1992, 1993 and 2003 with construction done to help preserve this important building.
The Huaca San Miguel is the first one you will see as you enter the park. It is impressive in its size and complexity containing stairs, plazas and walkways. They think that this pyramid was built by the Ichma Culture and later abandoned. The Inca then restored and improved by the Inca the building by adding with storage bins for grain. The Inca also used it as a cemetery and several important well-preserved mummies were discovered at this site. Archaeological digs were done at this site in 2003, 2004 and 2006. Archaeological work, conservation and reconstruction are ongoing at this Huaca.
The Huaca Tres Palos was built and in use from 1100 AD through 1532 AD and it is speculated that it was used solely as a temple and an observatory. Archaeologists discovered 96 wells on the upper platform that might have been used as a solar clock/calendar to help indicate appropriate times for planting crops or when the fishing would be good.
The Huaca La Cruz was built in the same period as the Huaca Tres Palos and so far, it is assumed that it was used as an administrative center also. Little work has been done at this site so far but archaeological work will continue on this pyramid and more information is expected to be discovered.
The Huaca Middendorf was part of the first real administrative and ceremonial center built in this city. Only a few minor digs have been done at this site but the entire structure has been stabilized so that studies can be done in the future.
The Huaca La Palma is the last of the major buildings on the grounds of the Parqaue Leyendas. This building was the principal administrative site during the time of the Incas. Unfortunately, this pyramid deteriorated a great deal before archaeological investigations began on it. Fortunately, some amazing friezes were discovered and preserved/restored here in 2001. They are the “Aves Piquero” and the “Cruces Escalonadas.”
There are important Huacas that are part of this great ancient city that are not in the park but are on private property. Two examples are, the Huaca San Marcos and Huaca Concha on property owned by the University of San Marcos. We can only hope that they will help preserve and study these important archaeological sites that are so important to the people of Peru.
The Huacas located inside the park are easily as impressive and interesting as visiting the animals there. They alone are worth a visit to this site in the heart of Lima. The Parque Leyendas with its Zoo and Huacas should be added to any list of places to see when you are in Lima.
Besides the Huacas mentioned in the four articles, there are more scattered throughout Lima. There is even a small Huaca a few blocks from my apartment here in San Borja. Presently, it’s not open to visitors. Digs and reconstruction were started on the site a few years back. I wait in anticipation of its opening to the public.