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Peru History

The First Settlers

The first settlers reached Peru some 20,000 years ago. They brought stone tools and were hunter-gatherers, living off game and fruit. Some of them settled in Paccaicasa, Ayacucho. The most ancient Peruvian skeletal remains found to date (7000 BC) show the ancient settlers had broad faces, pointed heads and stood 1.60 meters tall. The early Peruvians left examples of cave paintings at Toquepala (Tacna, 7600 BC) and houses in Chilca (Lima, 5800 BC).

The process of domesticating plants was to lay the foundations for organized agriculture and the construction of villages and ceremonial sites. As the regional cultures gradually integrated, new techniques surfaced such as textile weaving, metallurgy and jewelsmithy, giving rise to advanced cultures.

The Pre-Incas Cultures

Over the course of 1400 years, pre-Inca cultures settled along the Peruvian coast and highlands. The power and influence of some civilizations was to hold sway over large swaths of territory, which during their decline, gave way to minor regional centers. Many of them stood out for their ritual pottery, their ability to adapt and superb management of their natural resources; a vast knowledge from which later the Inca empire was to draw.

The first Peruvian civilization settled in Huantar (Ancash) in around (1200 - 1000 BC). The power of the civilization, based on a theocracy, was centered in the Chavin de Huantar, temple, whose walls and galleries were filled with sculptures of ferocious deities with feline features.

The Paracas culture (200 AD - 600 BC) rose to power along the south coast, and was to craft superb skills in textile weaving.

The north coast was dominated by the Moche civilization (200 AD - 600 BC). The culture was led by military authorities in the coastal valleys, such as the Lord of Sipan. The Moche pots which featured portraits, and their iconography in general were surprisingly detailed and showed great skill in design.

The highlands saw the rise of the Tiahuanaco culture (200 AD) based in the Collao region (which covered parts of modern-day Bolivia and Chile). The Tiahuanaco were to bequeath a legacy of agricultural terracing and the management of a variety of ecological zones.

The Nasca culture (300 AD - 900 BC) were able to tame the coastal desert by bringing water through underground aqueducts. They carved out vast geometric and animal figures on the desert floor, a series of symbols believed to form part of an agricultural calendar which even today baffles researchers.

The Wari culture (600 AD) introduced urban settlements in the Ayacucho area and expanded its influence across the Andes.

The refined Chimu culture (1100 - 1500 AD) crafted gold and other metals into relics and built the mud-brick citadel of Chan Chan, near the northern coastal city of Trujillo.

The Chachapoyas culture (800 AD) made the best possible use of arable land and built their constructions on top of the highest mountains in the northern cloud forest. The vast Kuelap fortress is a fine example of how they adapted to their environment.

The Incas

The Inca empire (1200 - 1500 BC) was possibly the most organized civilization in South America. Their economic system, distribution of wealth, artistic manifestations and architecture impressed the first of the Spanish chroniclers.

The Incas worshipped the earth goddess Pachamama and the sun god, the Inti. The Inca sovereign, lord of the Tahuantinsuyo, the Inca empire, was held to be sacred and to be the descendant of the sun god. Thus, the legend of the origin of the Incas tells how the sun god sent his children Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo (and in another version the four Ayar brothers and their wives) to found Cuzco, the sacred city and capital of the Inca empire.

The rapid expansion of the Inca empire stemmed from their extraordinary organizational skills. Communities were grouped, both as families and territorially, around the ayllu, their corner of the empire, and even if villagers had to move away for work reasons, they did not lose their bond to the ayllu. The Inca moved around large populations, either as a reward or punishment, and thus consolidated the expansion while drawing heavily from the knowledge of the cultures that had flourished prior to the Incas.

The Inca's clan was the panaca, made up of relatives and descendants, except for the one who was the Inca's successor, who would then form his own panaca. Sixteenth-century Spanish chroniclers recorded a dynasty of 13 rulers, running from the legendary Manco Capac down to the controversial Atahualpa, who was to suffer death at the hands of the Spanish conquerors.

The Tahuantinsuyo expanded to cover part of what is modern-day Colombia to the north, Chile and Argentina to the south and all of Ecuador and Bolivia.

The members of the panaca clans were Inca nobles, headed by the Inca sovereign. The power of the clans and the Inca was tangible in every corner of the empire, but the might of the Incas reached its peak in the architecture of Cuzco: the Koricancha or Temple of the Sun, the fortresses of Ollantaytambo and Sacsayhuaman, and above all the citadel of Machu Picchu.

For further information about the incas, click here: http://incas.perucultural.org.pe/

The encounter between two worlds

The encounter between the Inca culture and Hispanic culture got underway as a result of the Spanish conquest in the early sixteenth century. In 1532, the troops of Francisco Pizarro captured Inca ruler Atahualpa in the northern highland city of Cajamarca. The indigenous population was to dwindle during the first few decades of Spanish rule, and the Vice-regency of Peru was created in 1542 after a battle between the conquerors themselves and the Spanish Crown.

Spain's foothold in the New World was consolidated in the sixteenth century when Viceroy Francisco de Toledo laid down a set of rules governing the colonial economy: the mita system used indigenous labor to operate the mines and produce arts and crafts. These activities, together with a monopoly over trade, formed the basis of the colonial economy. But the changeover in the dynasty and the Borbon reforms in the eighteenth century sparked dissent among many social sectors. The main indigenous uprising was led by Tupac Amaru II, which was to set rolling the Creole movement that led to independence of Hispanic America from the Spanish crown in the early nineteenth century.

Until the seventeenth century, the Peruvian vice-regency covered an area stretching from Panama down to Tierra del Fuego

The missionary work of the Catholic priests blended with ancient Andean beliefs, forging a fusion of beliefs that still exists today. The Spaniards also brought along African slaves, who together with Spaniards and the indigenous population, form part of the social and racial fabric of Peru.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Peruvian intellectual writings and colonial art contributed to Spanish tradition.

The birth of the Peruvian State

Peru was declared an independent nation by Jose de San Martin in 1821, and in 1824 Simon Bolivar put an end to the War of Independence. However, despite efforts to organize the young Peruvian republic, in the nineteenth century the country had to face up to the cost of the struggle: a tough economic crisis and a tradition of military strongmen who gave civilians little chance to govern.

By 1860, thanks to income from guano, cotton and sugar, Peru was able to do without enforced labor imposed on the indigenous population and African slaves alike. Chinese and European immigrants swelled the workforce and integrated with Peru's society. The country was linked up by a railway network, and during the mandate of President Manuel Pardo, Peru organized its first civilian government. The first Japanese immigrants were to arrive at the end of the nineteenth century.

But in 1879, the country found itself at war with Chile. Peru was defeated and left bankrupt. After another spell of military regimes, Peru returned to civilian rule, giving rise to a time called "the Aristocratic Republic". The economy was dominated by the land-owning elite, and an export-oriented model imposed. The success of the rubber boom lent fresh splendor to the myth of El Dorado.

Peru Today

The early part of the twentieth century was marked by a drawn-out civilian dictatorship headed by President Augusto B. Leguia. The project to modernize the country, creating works for a New Fatherland left the State heavily in debt and unable to deal with the 1929 crash. It was also a time of intellectual creativity, symbolized by the founder of the APRA party, Victor Raul Haya de la Torre and Jose Carlos Mariategui, the father of Socialist beliefs in Peru and the center of intellectual and artistic thinking in the country during his short life.

After the fall of Leguia, military regimes once again rose to the forefront, despite apparently having run their course with the presidencies of Prado in 1939 and Bustamante y Rivero in 1945; but in 1948 a new military government was formed by Manuel A. Odria. Over the next eight years, major public works were built amidst severe political repression.

Peru, which has made major efforts to forge friendly relations with neighboring countries, has managed to overcome long-running border conflicts. Navigation conditions along the Amazon River led to agreements with Brazil, until in 1909 the frontier between the two nations was finally established. After lengthy debate, the border treaty with Colombia was approved by Congress in 1927, and Colombians were granted an access route to the Amazon River. In 1929, after border disputes with Chile resulting from armed conflict, the will to improve relations led both nations to sign a treaty whereby the city of Tacna was returned to Peru.

The border with Bolivia was marked by mutual accord in 1932. Finally, after several armed conflicts and diplomatic controversies with Ecuador, Peru in 1999 managed to get the 1942 Rio Protocol to prevail, closing the final chapter of the dispute over the territory within the Cordillera del Condor mountain range, shoring up Peru's relations with Ecuador.

In 1968, the armed forces staged a coup d'etat and overthrew then-President Fernando Belaunde. The first few years of the military regime stood out from other dictatorships in Latin America in that Peru's military had socialist sympathies. Led by General Juan Velasco, the military regime expanded the role of the State in a bid to solve the problems that had impoverished the country. Thus the State nationalized the oil industry, the media and carried out an agrarian reform. Velasco was replaced by General Francisco Morales-Bermudez, who bowed to public pressure and called for a Constituent Assembly.

Belaunde was re-elected in 1980, but the deep-lying poverty spurred the birth of two insurgencies which unleashed a wave of violence for over a decade. After the government of Alan Garcia (1985-1990), Alberto Fujimori was elected president in 1990, but shut down Congress in 1992 and decreed an emergency government. He was re-elected in 1995 and 2000, but public discontent forced him to call fresh elections for 2001. Valentin Paniagua was then chosen to head a caretaker government. In July 2001, Dr. Alejandro Toledo Manrique took office as the Constitutional President of the Republic of Peru. The current constitutional president of Peru is Alan Garcia Perez (2006-2011).