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Peru History - History of Peru

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What we know of the early Peru history is a result of the many important Peruvian archaeology finds. Its history covers a few thousand years from early or ancient times up to the present.

Preview - Peruvian history can be broken down into 5 major periods:

  1. Pre-Columbian Cultures
  2. The Inca Empire
  3. Spanish Conquest of the Inca Empire
  4. Vice-Royalty of Peru (Spanish Colonization)
  5. Republic of Peru

For countless centuries before the invasion of Spanish adventurer and European culture, Peru was the home to an amazing number of advanced cultures and civilizations.

Here we discuss the major stages of the history of Peru to arrive at its current modern and bustling society with all its progress and improvements as well as it problems and challenges.

Overall view of Peru's history:

What we know of the early history of Peru is a result of the many important Peruvian archaeology finds. Its history covers a few thousand years from early or ancient times up to the present.

Peru is a country of varied climate because the influence of the following phenomena: The territory now covered by Peru included ancient cultures such as the Chavin Culture and the Moche Civilization among other significant civilizations.

The best known of these early cultures, the Inca Empire, was the largest state in Pre-Columbian America and later played a large role in Peru history.  

The Incas were conquered by the Spanish Empire in the 16th century. During this time span in the history of Peru, Spain set up a Viceroyalty, that is to say, a district ruled by a colonial administration, which held authority over most of the other Spanish South America territories.

The next big change in Peru history was from the Viceroyalty or Colonial period to Peruvian Independence, first set up in 1821 but not  in control until 1824 after the decisive battle of Ayacucho.

Since 1824, this phase in the history of Peru has been essentially that of an independent republic.

Peru History Highlights

History of Peru - Pre-Columbian Period

The oldest civilizations in the geographical area of modern-day Peru are thousands of years old (see Peru Cultures Timeline).

The earliest are found on the coast in Paracas and Chilca Provinces and in the mountains in the beautiful Callejon de Huaylas.

During this long formative stage of Peru history, there was a gradual change from the initial nomadic type of civilization to an agriculturally-oriented lifestyle.

Main crops appear to have been corn for food and cotton for other uses. Wild animals native to the areas were eventually domesticated. These changes in the history of Peru resulted in what we seen in the Peru of today - the guinea pig, alpaca, and llama.

Crafts such as pottery, weaving baskets, using cotton and wool for textiles became widespread.

Some of the more significant cultures during this period: Followed later by the: These later were integrated eventually into the Inca Empire.

History of Peru - Inca Empire (1438-1532)

The biggest and most well known of the pre-Columbian civilizations was the Inca dynasty.

It reached its maximum size in the early 1500s, reaching from the southern mountains of Colombia in the north, covering most of Peru and a large part of Bolivia, and reaching into Argentina and Chile in the south.

"Along with my wife, daughter, and mother-in-law, I visited Machu Picchu several years ago and was amazed at the extent and amount of ruins in the surrounding area that you hardly hear about.

Another couple visiting us with Lin's mother (we lived in Bolivia at the time) made the comment that in all their travels to famous sites, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley was the best, even beating the Great Wall of China."

~ David Schneider at

The capital of the Inca Empire was Cuzco, located in the high Andes Mountains in the far south of Peru.

Along with Cuzco, the most well-known site and destination of travel for modern-day visitors is Machu Picchu, a fascinating and highly-picturesque ruin located on the top of a mountain ridge with precipitous drops on all sides, falling away to the Urubamba River valley, "The Sacred Valley."

Although Machu Picchu is the best-known of the Inca ruins, many scores of other well-preserved ruins are to be found in the Sacred Valley and surrounding areas.

Must read: The White Rock: An Exploration of the Inca Heartland by Hugh Thomson, who rediscovers Llactapata, an amazing Inca city near Machu Picchu, and othe "lost cities of the Incas." Read our special book review here.

History of Peru - The Spanish Conquest and Colonization (1531-1823)

Gold! That was the byword of adventurers returning from to Spain from Peru.

A not-so-happy era in Peru history was a result of these tales of fabulous wealth to be had for those with an adventurous and loose spirit. Among those drawn to this new world was a man named Francisco Pizarro along with his brothers.  Pizarro became a famous, perhaps infamous, name in the course of the history of Peru.

While a civil war ensued between two of the main Incas, and taking advantage of a time of local festivities, these brothers captured the Atahualpa in 1532, putting an unofficial end to the Inca sovereign system.

During bloody reprisals against Inca protests, the Spaniards finally abolished the entire Inca system and established a colonial regime.

However, Spanish royal authority was firmly set up until the official Viceroyalty of Peru in 1542.

During the decades after the establishment of the Spanish colonial rule under the Viceroyalty, Peru became the basis for Spain's wealth and authority in South America.

In spite of the iron hand of Spain, indigenous uprisings plagued the Viceroyalty for the next 270 years, culminating in wars and finally the Peruvian declaration of independence in 1821.

Freedom from Spanish rule, however, did not come until the Spanish army was defeated and Peruvian independence gained in 1824.

History of Peru - Republic of Peru (1824-present)

During the following decades, disputes over borders with neighboring countries were frequent.

Wars and broken treaties with Ecuador and Chile left scars that have not healed up to the present time.

After the world economic crisis following 1929, Peru was plagued with unrest and military reprisals.

The following years were notable for the formation of various political parties, both leftist and far right, the roots of which are found in Peruvian politics at the present time.

Out of this unstable time in Peru history came more turmoil.

Finally, in 1948, iron-handed military dictatorships became the norm and dominated the country until 1979, although the country was nominally a republic.

Finally, in 1980, the president assumed more power and took steps to diminish the power of the military and restore a measure of rule by popular support.

Now, despite various corrupt and self-serving administrations over the past few decades, Peru has come out of much of its political and financial turmoil and has attained, to a certain extent, stability.

The history of Peru, as in all countries, faces an uncertain future. However, in many ways for many of its people, life is better than it was in the past

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