The Plaza de Armas is a natural starting point. It is among the prettiest in Peru, with wide open walkways polished and gleaming, ringed by palm trees and tall black lampposts. In the center sits a grand fountain, El Monumento de la Libertad, sculpted by Edmond Moeller. Larger-than-life figures crouch and leap above the viewer, and high above them Liberty runs fleet-footed over the globe, carrying a torch of freedom.
The buildings around the plaza are immaculately painted and clean, their window screens and trim brilliant white with fresh coats. While the rest of the city leans toward spring-time pastels, the plaza’s buildings are bright blues, yellows, and reds, with screened balconies of dark wood.
Jirón Pizarro, north of the plaza, is one of Trujillo’s main shopping streets. Much of the street’s colonial architecture has been preserved, but many of the houses have been sectioned into clothing outlets and cellular stores. A few of Pizarro’s Casonas Antiguas, including the Casa de la Emancipación, have been restored.
Public protest saved the Casa de la Emancipación (Pizarro 610) from destruction, and now it is owned by Banco Continental. The bank restored the home and now hosts cultural shows in the Republican-era courtyard. The bank’s offices embrace the house in a weird blend of architecture: from the street the facade appears seamless, but one door leads into a past era and the other leads into the busy modern lobby of Banco Contintal. From inside the bank’s lobby you can look through windows into Emancipación’s garden.
Banks form an important part of the preservation of the Casonas Antiguas. CrediScotia is housed in Casa Hoyle (565 Independencia). Casa Mayorazgo de Facalá (Pizarro 314) has been restored and occupied by Scotiabank, and Caja Nuestra Gente has preserved the old home of Don Garcí Holguín and Doña Beatriz de Izasiga at 527 Independencia. All these banks are open to the public, welcoming visitors and tourists. Their customers wait in queues under centuries-old frescoes and walk through the doors of Trujillo’s finest families to deposit their checks.
But tucked in among these well-restored homes are forgotten places such as the grand crumbling edifice on Bolivar 760, whose whose massive doors are splintering in a peeling facade, the paint torn off in great swaths. Great screened-in wooden balconies jut out unexpectedly overhead (such as the one on the corner of Gamarra and Independencia) as do the delicate curlicue balconies of Bolivar 646, a mustard-colored building whose cracked white facade bears repeated cameos of a lovely young woman. The family who lived there is now long gone, and the building is now stuffed with money changers and calling centers.
Keep an eye out for beautifully carved doors, such as the rose carving at 954 San Martin, and for the many contradictions that make up the city’s architecture. At 780 San Martin, the spa El Hacienda is housed in a gorgeously restored old home. Through the open doors the period courtyard beckons, and flowers and vines spill from the balcony above. The house across the street, however, is on the verge of condemnation. Jagged cracks run through the plaster, and the walls are sagging and bulging, gray with peeling paint. The windows have been broken out, and the balconies have crumbled away.
Most of Trujillo’s Casonas Antiguas, the venerable houses of the history-influncing families, are located in a cluster around the Plaza de Armas. Don’t let that stop you from wandering the rest of the historic center, because in the back streets of Trujillo, amid salons and candy vendors you’ll find quiet glimpses of history in the carved wooden doors or ornate ironwork of a window, the product of some skilled craftsman’s labor, the pride of some forgotten family.