We’ve seen a lot of churches, temples, monasteries and other places of religious importance throughout our travels. They make great tourist spots for a number of obvious reasons (art, architectural beauty, cultural significance historical significance, I could go on and on here…). The thing about churches is that after a while, if you’ve been travelling and seeing dozens of them in a very short time period, they all start to blur together.
If you find that happening to you in Lima, but you still want to go out and see the sights, I highly recommend the Monasterio de San Francisco. It’s included in every guidebook’s section about downtown Lima, but if you have only a day or two in the city I could see this one getting lost in the shuffle.
The structure in and of itself is nice, there are many rooms that hold lovely pieces of art, or very old furnishings, but there are two things that make this place stand out above some of the other smaller sites we’ve visited.
1 – The Library
Now, I have to admit to having an affinity for books and other old things (I was a history teacher…old things are awesome), but this was truly amazing. The monastery has a library collection that contains 25,000 ancient texts, most of which are handwritten, and some of which date back to before the Spanish conquest! The room itself is beautiful, and they have a few enormous books on display right up next to the ropes that keep you from actually entering the room. You can really feel that you are in the presence of something magnificent here, and I would have stayed for hours if we had been allowed.
2 – The Catacombs
Catacombs aren’t for everyone. Before we entered we were told by our guide that if we felt nauseous, or uncomfortable that we should leave and wait by the exit for the rest of the group to join back up. We’ve seen some smaller catacombs, but we were simply not prepared for how massive this site is. Apparently, it was the general burial area for hundreds of years, for everyone in Lima. Our guide estimated that there were more than 70,000 skeletons that had been unearthed so far. That’s right, only so far. They had rearranged the bones into separate earthen bins, which were open and just inches away from the walkway. We passed bin, after bin, after bin, after bin until we finally came to the end of the tour, where a giant well of sorts had been used to arrange skulls and more bones into a morbid circular display. It was both extremely unsettling, yet completely fascinating. I find myself wondering who these people were? Is this how they are to be remembered?
It’s only a few blocks away from the Plaza de Armas, so it’s quite easy to get to if you are already in the center. You must pay a small entrance fee of 7 Soles, but this includes a guided tour of about an hour in Spanish or English. Most people we’ve met along the way have skipped this particular site, so we’re here to encourage you to go!