History of Peru
The eventfulness of Peru's history is evident in the numerous Inca ruins, Spanish colonial buildings and indigenous people practicing ancient traditions found in modern Peru. This mixture of past and present leaves a magical impression on visitors.
While Peru inevitably evokes images of Machu Picchu and the Inca Empire, the country is also rich with archaeological sites which are a legacy of even more ancient times, when great civilizations left behind a wealth of art, customs, rituals, wisdom and skills.
Long before the Incas, the Chavín civilization (1500-400 BC) achieved considerable prowess in architecture, engineering and agriculture in the northern highlands. Along the northern coast, the Moche civilization (200 BC-700 AD) is famous for its pottery (portraits carved into pots and gourds) and its pyramid-shaped temples. The same area was later controlled by the Chimú kingdom (900-1450 AD), who built Chan Chan, an immense mud-brick citadel featuring 12-meter-high walls and superb architectural work.
To the south, the Nazca people (200 BC-900 AD) etched an impressive series of figures into the desert floor known as the Nazca Lines, while unearthed graves belonging to the Paracas culture (800 BC-600 AD) have weavings which reveal the magical and religious vision that governed the lives of this ancient civilization.
Centuries later, the Incas (1300-1500 AD) made Cusco the center of their empire, building major constructions such as Sacsayhuaman, Pisac and Koricancha. It is here that myth and history merge: where the Inca roads, towns, people and traditions are a living example of the Andean spirit.
In 1532, the troops of Francisco Pizarro captured Inca ruler Atahualpa in the northern highland city of Cajamarca. The indigenous population dwindled 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. This 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.
Until the seventeenth century, the Peruvian vice-regency covered an area stretching from Panama down to Tierra del Fuego (on the southern tip of South America).
Dissent among many social sectors was growing and 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. Despite efforts to organize the young Peruvian republic, in the nineteenth century Peru was characterized by 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. 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 early part of the twentieth century was marked by a drawn-out civilian dictatorship headed by President Augusto B. Leguia. After the fall of Leguia, military regimes once again rose to power. Over the following decades, major public works were built amidst severe political repression.
Peru has a history of border disputes with neighboring countries and over the years has eventurally come to agreements with Colombia in 1927, Chile in 1929, Bolivia in 1932 and Ecuador in 1999. Today Peru has good relations with all of its neighboring countries.
Despite a coup detat in 1968, democracy has prevailed during modern times in Peru. Democratic elections have been somewhat slowed due to corruption and public scandals. Today Peru is a democratic republic and the president and members of Congress are elected every five years by universal suffrage. The current constitutional president of Peru is Alejandro Toledo Manrique (2001-2006).