Call for National Heritage status for Rio Surco


The Rios Surco and Huatica, two rivers which water 80 % of the green areas of Lima, should be declared a national cultural asset (Patrimonio Cultural de la Nación), say the Commissioners who manage them.

These 2000-year-old waterways irrigate most of Lima’s green areas such as San Isidro Golf, the Monterrico horse-racing track by Jockey Plaza, the playing fields of Campo de Marte, and parks and gardens throughout the city. The major canals were visible into the twentieth century and can be seen in old photographs. Eighty percent of them are still in use, though in the centre of the city they are mostly buried underground.

“The Commission has inherited the responsibility to manage these waters that are still flowing to keep our city green, as they were built by the ancients,” said President of the Commission, Luis Molina. “We are walking in the footsteps of the first Lord of the Waters, the Curaca Taulichusco, and we look towards a future when the canals will be recognised as part of our National Cultural Heritage.”

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_Water flowing into Campo de Marte, Central Lima.(Photo courtesy of author)_

Lima trees and grass are watered by water drawn from the Rimac River. It is taken to all parts of the city via canals originally built to irrigate farmland around the Huacas- the temples of the Lima people- such as Huaca Pucllana in Miraflores.

San Borja’s green areas are directly watered by the Rio Surco which leaves the Rimac in Ate and flows past Roosevelt College and Jockey plaza – it can be seen at one side of the Trebol or roundabout linking the Panamerican and Javier Prado – and in an open stream through the parks by El Peganito where Sunday cyclists meet up. It passes close to Humboldt College, down through Surco to Hiram Bingham College, and through the military air base to Chorrillos and the sea.

In Central Lima, the Rio Huatica took water from close to the open air book market of Amazonas, into the Plaza de Armas, and provided a water supply for all the houses and streets of old Spanish Lima. It was built long before the Spanish, when the Plaza de Armas was the centre for two Huacas, where the Cathedral and Presidential palace now stand.

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_(Map courtesy of Maritza Masia/Jose Canziani)_

Leaving the Rimac close to the Plaza de Armas, another canal took water to Magdalena via the five pyramids of Huaca Mateo Salado by the Plaza de Banderas in Pueblo Libre. A field of roses which had been irrigated by the canal until recently can still be seen among the Huacas. The Rio Maranga took water to the many residences and temples around what is now the Parque de Leyendas, the Lima Zoo.

These were once broad streams flowing through farmland. The Commissioners of the Rivers envisage a cleaner, greener Lima where the rivers are respected and cherished, and used to maximum effect to beautify the city. It is sad to see these ancient waterways encased in concrete, but in the few areas in Ate and Huachipa where they remained open until recently, they could be seen choked with rubbish.

Change has come rapidly to Lima. Enormous areas of farmland have become urban in fifty years and the pressure for housing from the growing population continues to threaten historic sites.

In 2013 the Municipality of Chorrillos started building a 100 metre wall in the bed of the Rio Surco, which had been drained to carry out the twice yearly cleaning.

In seeking recognition of this heritage in the heart of Lima, the Surco Canal Commission (Comision de Regantes Surco) hopes to create a greater awareness amongst the people of Lima not only to help protect and preserve the canals, but also enable a better utilisation of the invaluable resource of running water in this desert capital.

_Having worked in and written about the Caribbean, West Africa, the USA and Europe, John Haigh covers South American commercial news for the Hong Kong business community and teaches at a private Lima secondary school – but can be found in his spare time browsing Gamarra markets, sampling Callao bars or escaping from Lima to experience the culture and civilised values of Peru._ How can we better utilize the invaluable resource of running water in this desert capital? First step is to get educated about the main water sources in Lima.