National Geographic : 1930 Jun
THE LURE OF LIMA, CITY OF THE KINGS BY WILLIAM JOSEPH SHOWALTER AUTHOR OF "CUBA-THE SUGAR MILL OF THE ANTILLES," "TWIN STARS OF CHILE," "VIRGINIA-A COMMON WEALTH THAT HAS COME BACK," ETC., IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE IT WAS a dull midwinter morning that brought me into the busy harbor of Callao, the principal port of Peru. As our ship came to anchor and the port for malities got under way, Lima loomed upon the horizon-Lima, founded as the City of the Kings, developed into the viceregal capital of a continent, and latterly trans formed into a modern Latin-American metropolis. A pall of dense clouds hung low over the Rimac Valley, that floor-level and fer tile plain which the Peruvian capital shares with imposing ruins of lost civilizations, with beautiful haciendas that form islands of green surrounded by seas of sand, and with occasional stumps of ancient moun tains which the erosion of the ages has not yet conquered. But the clouds were still high enough for the spires and towers of the city to rise out of the distance, with an air of welcome to the traveler. A fine old fletero-he confessed to 82 years and clearly was a full-blooded de scendant of the ancient people who dwelt there before the Old World even suspected the existence of a Western Hemisphere took me ashore in his launch. Tall and erect despite his years, with his face eroded by decades of hardship, and with his gnarled but sinewy hands still supple, he seemed a lone survivor of the heroic age of his race, when men were giants upon whose shoulders fourscore years rested lightly. IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF PIZARRO I had come to see the first-founded cap ital of South America in the process of modernization, and to catch something of the romance and lure of its nearly four centuries of dramatic history; and I hoped to gather inspiration for the undertaking by following further the footsteps of Fran cisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro, those two baseborn lads of Old Spain whose path I had picked up at Panama and fol lowed to Tfumbez-a path that led to the glory of the conquest of Peru and the grave of ignominious death at the hands of the executioner and the assassin. But in going from Callao to the capital over the splendid, eight-mile concrete bou levard, where late-model automobiles and heavy-duty trucks have taken the place of antiquated, high-wheeled carriages and snail-pacing bullock carts, even that ro mantic past for the moment became obscured by another looming historical horizon. For, about halfway to Lima, a vast ridge rises from the valley floor, on which the iron heel of the Conqueror could leave no impress. The highway goes neither over nor around it, but cuts boldly through. If your eyes are sharp, you will discover thatitisnotahillatall,butahugeman made mound, perhaps the greatest pile of adobe brick in the world. A VAST PROJECT OF THE PAST When the chief engineer of the biggest construction company in South America was asked what it would cost to reproduce that structure to-day, even with the cheap labor--compared to ours--of Peru, he calculated its cubical contents and found that there is not now a single engineering project under way, from the Rio Grande to the Strait of Magellan, that would call for such an expenditure as the replace ment of this adobe hill would involve. That huge structure-several city blocks long, half as wide, and perhaps 50 feet high-speaks of times so remote that the doings of Pizarro and Almagro seem but the events of yesterday; proclaims a race which was forgotten before they were born. It carries us back to a time of which only irresponsible Legend dares speak with assurance; to a time before which more trustworthy Tradition stands uncertain; to a time that was already far too remote for memory when History wrote her first halting passages. Beside the thoroughly modern boule vard which runs through that ancient edi fice stands a pedestal surmounted by a wrecked automobile, with a legend of warning; and a little farther on, atop an adobe fence post, sits the grinning skull of some poor Yorick of the forgotten race which built that great ruin.