There used to be many colonial mansions dotted throughout central Lima but over the past few centuries earthquakes, urban development projects, and poor maintenance has resulted in only a fraction of these mansions still standing today. As many of them now house offices or centers of education this means only a few of them are still open to the public. Of those that remain only two originate from the 16th century – the Casa de Aliaga and the Casa de Pilatos. As well as those two this article will examine two other notable examples of these remaining Colonial houses which date from the late 17th century to the early 19th century.
In order to try and re-create their home environment many Spanish settlers in Peru modeled their houses on Andalusian designs, particularly those found in the city of Seville. They would have also have preferred to use stone and brick to construct their houses but due to difficulties and costs in supplying these they had to use more local materials such as abode (bricks made from mud and straw) and quincha, , a traditional earthquake resistant material comprising a wooden frame covered in mud and plaster instead. The facades of the mansions were typically painted in light, warm colors such as blue, yellow and orange.
*The Casa de Aliaga*
This mansion, close to the Plaza Mayor and dating from 1535, is possibly the oldest colonial mansion in the whole of South America. It was originally built by Jeronimo de Aliaga, one of Francisco Pizarro’s conquistadors responsible for the capture of the Inca emperor Atahualpa in Cajamarca, on the location of a Pre-Colombian sacred site and has since been occupied by 17 generations of his descendants. Whilst it is not particularly impressive from the outside with its facade worn down by time, weather, and pollution, it still possesses a very fine wooden balcony.
It is the interior of the 66-room building where the true beauty lies, impressive enough to make the Casa de Aliaga one of the finest examples of colonial houses in the whole of Peru. Among the most impressive aspects of the house are its astonishing inner patio, its marble staircases, and its stylish salons full of Louis XIV fixture and fittings and excellent paintings, many from the Cusco School style.
*Casa de Pilatos*
The Casa de Pilatos is said to have been constructed in 1590, to a design by the Jesuit priest Ruiz Portillo, which would make it the 2nd oldest colonial mansion in Lima. An alternative name for the house is the Casa de Esquivel y Jarava after its original owner was the Spanish merchant Diego de Esquivel y Jarava. It is more commonly known as the Casa de Pilatos due to its similarity of a house of that name in Seville.
Although not as impressive looking as some of the other mansions of Lima it is still a fine example of 16th century colonial architecture with an imposing red façade. Its original wooden balconies were lost in the earthquake of 1746 and those that in evidence today, enclosed in design with one covering a corner of the building, are replicas. The interior includes a double hallway and a beautiful patio containing fine carved wooden balustrades and with a magnificent stone staircase rising up from its centre. Nowadays the building houses offices belonging to the Supreme Court
*Torre Tagle Palace*
The most famous mansion within Lima is the spectacular Torre Tagle Palace (pictured, above), a couple of blocks east of the Plaza Mayor. There is much debate about the exact date of its construction but most sources seem to agree it was probably around 1730. It was commissioned by the extravagantly named Spanish aristocrat José Bernardo de Tagle-Bracho y Pérez de la Riva, the 1st Marquis of Torre Tagle and treasurer of the Spanish Armada.
The façade, in Andalusian Baroque style but also incorporating Creole and Asian influences, is probably the most beautiful in Lima with an ornate portico, a fine carved stone doorway and two outstanding Moorish style enclosed balconies, carved from cedar and mahogany. Above the doorway is the shield and motto of the Torre Tagle family.
The entrance hallway leads to an inner courtyard surrounding by Moorish-style balustrades, arches and columns and with an opulent stone staircase leading up to the 2nd floor which is decorated with superb wooden balconies and galleries. The main hall contains portraits of the Torre Tagle family and its elegant lounges are covered with tiles in a mixture of Spanish and Moorish styles. Today the house belongs to the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is no longer open to the general public although special permission may be given to certain tour groups.
*Casa de Oquendo*
The Casa de Oquendo, also known as the Casa de Osembala, stands on the site of a building in which novices belonging to the Dominican Order were trained. When this building was destroyed in the 1746 earthquake the land was sold to the Spanish merchant and Marquis, Martin Osembala. Osembala constructed a mansion which was completed around 1807 and is one of the largest, and at the time of its construction the tallest, dwellings in the centre of Lima. Most houses tended to be only two stories high to make them less susceptible to earthquakes but the Casa de Oquendo is three stories with a small cupola upon its flat roof.
In order to keep an eye on arrival of ships in the port of Callao Osembala would often climb up to the mirador contained within the fourth storey cupola with a telescope. When Osembala died his wife was forced to sell the house to Jose de la Asuncion Oquendo, a well-known figure in Limean society at that time, in order to pay off debts.
The large façade of the mansion is neoclassical with influences of the Rococo movement. The house was initially indigo when it was first built and following restoration work in the 1980s the façade was repainted in this original color. There are five Louis XVI style main enclosed balconies with three smaller open balconies. Inside is a spectacular patio and 40 bedrooms. The Casa de Oquendo currently belongs to the Ministry of Education but it is possible for tours to be arranged by contacting the building’s caretaker. Take a look at some of Lima’s impressive Colonial mansions, in the next installment of our Historical Peru series.
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