The Plaza de Armas, also known as the Plaza Mayor, is one of the main tourist attractions in Lima, Peru. From its conception in 1535—the same year in which Francisco Pizarro founded the city of Lima—to the present day, the Plaza de Armas has remained the focal point of the city.
The following structures are the most historically, architecturally, and administratively important buildings surrounding Lima’s Plaza de Armas. This list starts with the Government Palace on the north side of the square and moves in a clockwise direction.
The Government Palace (Palacio de Gobierno) dominates the north side of the Plaza de Armas. Francisco Pizarro commissioned the palace in 1535, but five centuries of expansion, reconstruction, and renovation have resulted in the much grander and far larger structure seen today.
Since the birth of the Peruvian Republic, the Government Palace has served as the headquarters of the President of Peru. Access to the palace is restricted and visits are by arrangement only, but you can stand outside the gates to watch the daily changing of the guard (at about midday).
Casa del Oidor
The Casa del Oidor, on the northeastern corner of the square, once housed Lima’s colonial magistrates. It is not open to the public, but its colonial balconies are certainly worth a closer look.
Archbishop's Palace of Lima
The Archbishop's Palace sits on the eastern side of the square. Despite its grand colonial appearance, the neo-colonial structure is not particularly old, having been built in 1924. The Palace serves as the official home of the Archbishop of Lima and as the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Lima. The distinctive granite facade is notable for its cedar balconies.
Cathedral of Lima
The Cathedral of Lima sits next to the Archbishop’s Palace. Construction of the original cathedral—a small and unsophisticated building of adobe bricks—began in 1535. The cathedral seen today is the result of two further reconstructions. Four major earthquakes, the last occurring in 1940, led to further repairs and renovations. The tomb of Francisco Pizarro is housed with the cathedral.
South Side of the Plaza de Armas
The southernmost side of the Plaza de Armas features two yellowish buildings (both adorned with colonial-style balconies) located on either side of a central passageway. The building to the right is the headquarters of Caretas magazine. The narrow street running between the two buildings is Pasaje Olaya (Olaya Passage), which runs from Jirón Huallaga (on the square) to Jirón Ucayali, one block to the south. It is named after José Olaya, a martyr of Peru’s fight for independence who was shot dead in the passageway.
Palace of the Union
The Palace of the Union (Palacio de la Unión) sits on the west side of the Plaza de Armas. Inaugurated in 1942, the palace is the current headquarters of the Club de la Unión, which is an association that dates back to 1868. The club’s founders included Miguel Grau, Alfonso Ugarte, and Francisco Bolognesi, who were three of Peru’s greatest military heroes.
Municipal Palace (City Hall)
Also on the western side of the square is Lima’s Municipal Palace (Palacio Municipal de Lima), which is the headquarters for Lima’s governing body. Construction of the original municipal building began in 1549, but earthquakes led to numerous repairs and reconstructions over the following centuries. Construction of today’s Municipal Palace began in 1943, and the building was inaugurated in 1944. Its neo-colonial facade mirrors those of other building on the square, while the interior pays tribute to the French Renaissance.
The center of the Plaza de Armas was once home to the city gallows. In 1578, Spanish viceroy of Peru Francisco de Toledo had this grim centerpiece replaced with a far more attractive water fountain. In 1651, Viceroy García Sarmiento de Sotomayor replaced Toledo’s fountain with his own, where it remains to this day.