Sunday, February 21, 2010

Chiclayo’s Past

The area Chiclayo occupies today has been populated for thousands of years, beginning with people of whom nothing is known, through several distinct cultures up to the present. The informal founding of Chiclayo took place shortly after the arrival of the Spanish with the construction of Santa María de los Valles de Chiclayo – a Franciscan Monastery begun in 1561. The formal founding (whatever that is) took place in 1720. On April 15 1835 Peruvian president Felipe Santiago Salaverry bestowed the official title of ‘city’ on Chiclayo. For whatever reason he also gave it the honorary title of ‘Heroic City’, which can still be seen on monuments throughout the city.

Because of my fascination with history I have always loved ‘then and now’ photos. I’ve not been able to locate many historical photos of Chiclayo, though I’m told unknown persons have many of them in unknown locations, so my ‘unknown self’ is going to keep looking. I have driven myself and others crazy trying to date the old photos that follow with no success. Let’s just say they’re old.

The Franciscan Monastery “Santa María de los Valles de Chiclayo” has a colorful history. As mentioned earlier construction began in 1561. On September 24 1859 it opened its doors as the San Jose National school. In 1882 during the Pacific War with Chile, the Chilean army occupied the building. In 1906 the building again served as a school until the late 1980s when a portion of the ancient structure collapsed and three students were killed. Since that time what remains of the once proud structure has been boarded up and allowed to slowly crumble.

The building on the left is now Interbank. The central square looks more like a jungle than a park. Whenever I look at this photo I get a ‘Sunday’ feel from it – the cars casually on parade; the strollers and bench occupiers enjoying their day off.

The same view from a slightly higher angle. Things change in 100 years or so. What remains of the monastery is hidden behind palm trees in the photo’s center. I spend hours in this park looking and listening. It’s an island of peace surrounded by the hustle and bustle of central city activity.

Avenue Balta North, taken from somewhere near the central park. The banner apparently is informing the populous of an upcoming annual celebration on December 8th of the “Virgin of Immaculate Conception”, a celebration that has been taking place for 300 years. It seems to me that Peruvians have a preoccupation with virgins. Every organization from postal workers to fire fighters has a patron virgin. Tradition has it that the statue of Elias Aguirre in the park bearing his name tips its hat to every passing virgin.

Avenue Balta North today. The building on the left is the former Royal Hotel, inaugurated in 1930. Just this year it became a Ripley Department Store, one of a huge chain of stores owned by a Chilean conglomerate. The city office building on the right was constructed between 1919 and 1924. Extensive remodeling has recently been completed.

Avenue Elias Aguirre looking east from the intersection with Avenue Balta South. Construction on the Santa Maria Cathedral was begun on February 13 1869. It was consecrated 90 years later in 1959. The road gets its name from Elias Aguirre who was a prominent figure in the Pacific War with Chile. Another important figure in the Pacific War was Jose Leonardo Ortiz. His home still exists today (red arrow) and is designated an historical monument.

Same view today, except I took my photo one hour later. The church and Ortiz’s house are the only objects I’ve been able to identify from the previous photo. What these photos can’t convey is the changes over time. Dozens of restaurants and other businesses have opened, closed and reopened in this block during the interval between the old and new photos. Maribel’s parents watched movies in a cinema half-way down the block on the right. The cinema has long been closed and forgotten, but had not even been conceived of in the preceding photo. Who knows what things will look like in another hundred years?



  1. I got some old postcards from Chiclayo, it shows some interesting buildings "Portal Orrego" I don't think this building exists anymore but it was a 2 story building with a tower.
    If you'd like I can scan them and make them accessible.

  2. Hi Allen.... If you're willing to do it I'd love to have access to those postcards.
    Thank you

  3. Hi Tom,

    Sorry about the delay, finally I had a chance to scan my postcards, they are available for viewing at:


    PS: by the way my dad is an expat as well, he lives 2 blocks away from you house, and in Peru for many years

  4. Thanks Allen…I’ve copied and am going to have them printed. A couple of them are mysteries we will try to solve. Others are great for ‘then and now shots.’ Your comment about your father living two blocks from our apartment has us scratching our heads.