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Peruvian History and Culture

Peru, located along the Pacific Ocean, is the third largest country in South America with a population of over 25 million. Spanish is the most commonly spoken language, however, Quechua is a major legacy of the Inca empire, and is still spoken with regional dialects in many parts of the country, particularly in the Andes.

Five hundred years ago, Peru was the heart of the Inca Empire having Cusco as its capital. By the 16th Century, the Empire was devastated by the invasion of Spanish "conquistadores" or conquerors. These conquerors came in search of gold and silver and found it among the riches that lie in the Andes. Peru soon became the principal source of wealth for the Spanish elite, particularly the monarchy. In the process, the Inca lifestyle that had continued happily for over five hundred years was left in tatters.

Today, almost half of the population of Peru is pure Quechua, the Indian descendants of the Incas. The culture of the land strongly reflects the influence of the Incas. The Incas were a highly organized and civilized people. They were skilled in stonework, engineering, weaving, farming, the working of gold and silver and the building of roads. Tourists today can visit incredible archaeological remains that attest to the abilities of the Inca people.


The Incas were lovers of music. They used a pentatonic scale which is still in existence today. Instruments such as the reed quena or flute, the antara or panpipe, the conch shells, the ocarina and other primitive percussion instruments are still commonly used. The Incas were also lovers of dance. Popular folksongs and dances have survived to this day, including the yarivi, the huayno, the cashua and the marinera. Peru has, however, also developed its own modern music culture complete with a world class Symphony Orchestra based out of the country's capitol, Lima. This orchestra encourages the development of home grown composing talent by performing the music of local composers. The most famous Peruvian composer is Andre Sas, whose compositions are heavily influenced by the native music.

The literature of Peru got its start when 16th Century Spanish historian wrote his work, Royal Commentaries of the Incas. Over the next 100 years writing became very ecclesiastical and poetic. The 20th Century saw an explosion of poetic and prose talent. The most prominent were Ventura Garcia Calderon, Jose Carlos Mariategui, Ciro Alegria and Cesar Vallejo.


In 1568, the first play was performed in Peru. It was presented in the plaza of San Pedro in Lima. Today, the leading playhouse is the Municipal Theatre in Lima. The top modern day playwrights are Salazar Bondy and Enrique Solari Swayne. The painting of Peru is strongly influenced by Indian culture. During the 17th Century painting took on a religious overtone. In the 1930’s a Peruvian movement in painting had a strong influence. Works emerged that showed the plight of the native people. In later decades there was a reaction against this and, from the 1950’s on, abstract painting came into vogue.

The architecture of Peru is a rich display of the pre-European Inca monumental ruins, as well as many examples of colonial buildings – mainly churches and public buildings. Cusco was once the Inca capital. The city was noted for it’s wood carvings, sculpture, furniture and paintings. The Creole style that developed from the 17th Century onwards was a fusion of Spanish and native Inca styles. In the Andes the Spanish settlers often built directly on top of the Inca ruins. In Lima today, many examples of modern architecture can be found.

Cesar VallejoCesar Vallejo, Foremost Peruvian Poet.  A House of Peruvian Culture is currently being constructed in his hometown of Santiago de Chuco
20th Century Peruvian Poet
Select poetry
(translated to English)

Peru is a nation that has fused together a rich and ancient culture with a newer European one. The result is a captivating mix of native beauty, archaeological marvel and European flair.

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