The Wooden Balconies of Lima

Glimpses of the Moorish imprint on Spanish colonial architecture can be witnessed on a walk through the UNESCO site of Central Lima. Most glaringly in the stylised Mudejar influenced covered balconies incorporated into the facades of colourful 17th & 18th century mansions.  
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Originally built as much for the same purpose as their Iberian counterparts – to afford privacy to women of nobility – as for their aesthetic value, these ornamental balconies began to lose their appeal, with changing social norms and the advent of modern architecture in the early 19th century.

An art professor at the University of San Marcos, Bruno Roselli, was the first to recognise their historic value and salvaged several from demolition sites and transferred them to interim warehouses. His efforts were in vain however, for the warehouse and their contents perished in a fire.

The surviving balconies fell into disrepair until the late Nineties, when an “Adopt a Balcony” campaign was set up by Mayor Alberto Andrade in a last ditch effort to save them from extinction.

As we explored the Casa de Osambela – one of the few multi-storeyed mansions of the time in Lima – and its gorgeous balconies with Edward our guide, I could relate to his despair at the speed with which modernisation was eroding his cultural heritage, and his hope that enough will survive.

PS: The last two images of the – rather spruced up – blue facade of Casa de Osambela are courtesy: Wikimedia. Mine seem to be missing, possibly accidentally deleted!

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

90 thoughts on “The Wooden Balconies of Lima

  1. You surely do have an exhaustive travel schedule. Thanks to you we get to travel with you through descriptions and pictures.

  2. The Wedgewood blue is such a trip! Do you think it survived because it’s the most outrageous balcony in town and they just couldn’t face the barrage of abuse they’d receive if they pulled it down? Fingers crossed a few survive the next couple of decades. 🙂

  3. Wonderful architecture and I’m happy to learn that someone saw their value and worked to save them for all of us to enjoy.

  4. Glad you brought balconies into focus (literally :-)) here! Balconies, grilles and windows fascinate me!

    1. Yes, mainly in the Northern states. Surprised by how common seclusion was in Europe as well!

  5. These are amazing and I have enjoyed your recount very much Madhu. One thing puzzles me though… if they were invented to afford privace to ladies of nobility,, what are they doing on a Bishop’s Palace?

    1. A very pertinent question Paula 😀
      The Bishops Palace is a 19th century adaptation of an older (the Torre Tagle Palace) building. Those balconies don’t really qualify as heritage, but they were too beautiful to be left out 😉

  6. People stepping up to save these historic icons are heroes to me. A real clash between the preservationists and the developers who want to tear down the old and put up another condo/mall. Those balconies are incredible; works of art. Haven’t seen these before.

    1. Its the same story the world over isn’t it Lynne?
      I thought you had been to Peru for some reason. Do spare a day for Lima when you do go. The old town is well worth a walk through, and some of the museums hold a wealth of pre-Columbian gold!

  7. ‘modernisation was eroding his cultural heritage’

    You nailed what distresses me about so many historic areas, and my frustration of not being able to convey my concerns for their vanishing icons. there’s an old forlorn home that marks a prominent corner in town. totally historic, it has bamboo sides/walls and the typical second-floor overhang.. wooden support columns that are also used as door knockers (!)… i was told that people keep trying to buy it to tear it down and put up a concrete modern structure, and the owner won’t sell. wise owner.

    thanks for this post!

    z

    1. But how long can he hold out? Same story here Lisa, if you remember my post about my hometown. Historical value cannot compete with hard cash in countries where people have never seen that kind of wealth before.

  8. I always learn so much about the world from your posts, Madhu. Thank you for sharing it. -Max-

  9. They are exquisitely beautiful. One may wish that efforts to preserve gems like these were started long before things fall into disrepair. I guess, nobody knows how valuable something is until it is almost gone. Your photos will make sure they are preserved in memories. 🙂

    1. Thank you Imelda. Are there similar architectural details in any part of the Philippines?

    1. Thanks Judy.
      A strange fact about Lima – It barely rains there, just the occasional drizzle leading to about 1 – 6 cms of rain through the year! They do have water problems, but the Andean rivers keep the city from turning into a desert!

  10. I talked to my friend living in Lima yesterday – we haven’t talked for 8 months or more and then you post this. Never been to Lima, but I can see how Spanish influenced it’s. Stunning balconies … especially the blue house.
    Wonderful post and photos … and I’m glad it’s not only me that has to use wikimedia at times – deleted photos be mistake …. join a very exclusive club – I’m a member too. *smile – have a wonderful weekend

  11. Having a covered balcony seems a bit of an oxymoron, at least defeating the purpose but they certainly are ornamental and an interesting architectural feature.

    1. It does! I think the original Moorish (and Arab before that) had trellis work that provided shelter from the desert sun while allowing cool evening air through. These appear to be built purely for privacy and aesthetic purposes 😉

  12. Very distinctive. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked them, but seeing several in a row made them seem much prettier. I’m glad they were preserved.

    1. They look good when they are all aligned Juliann. When the lines don’t match they can seem a bit messy! I am glad too that they managed to hold on to a few at least.

    1. Machu Picchu is the highlight of a trip to Peru of course, but I quite enjoyed our time in Lima Claudine.

  13. I saw a very similar style in the Canary Islands and in Huelva in Spain, Madhu. Great subject matter. 🙂

    1. So do I Gilly. I wondered how they align the different styled structures though. Some aren’t and I think they are newer, less meticulously constructed ones 🙂

  14. Lovely old balconies! And I enjoyed reading your informative post, most interesting….

  15. Wonderful and unexpected. I will be in Lima this summer, and will look forward to seeing them with my own eyes. Do you have any other thoughts about what to see, Madhu? Machu Picchu, of course, and a trip down the Amazon out of Iquitos. But if there is any advice you can give as a seasoned traveler who has been everywhere, I would welcome your ideas.

    1. Absolutely you don’t have to miss Machu Pichu… but as well the “Peru’s Valley of the Kings”. There you may find such fantastic places… you’ll have problems to get rid of their souvenir… belive me… I know what I’m talking about Naomi… :-)claudine

    2. Lima city itself can be done in a day or two Naomi. There are several day trips you can do from Lima if you have enough days. We did want to see the Nazca lines, but couldn’t fit it in. Arequipa and Puno are the other two destinations on the tourist trail. A whole lot more ancient sites like Chicalayo (The Valley Of the Kings that Claudine mentions above) but they are off the beaten track, so will require a lot more time. Remember, you will have to give yourself enough time to acclimatise to the elevation in Cusco and Puno. Visit ‘high’ and sleep ‘low’ is a solution, but you still can’t rush it. Shall send you an email with links to useful sites.

      1. Dear Madhu,
        Thank you so much for this information. We have a lot of options, and not enough time! We will consider carefully, and I’m sure you will hear about it on Writing Between the Lines!

    1. My pleasure Anne. Hope you get to see this in person, but Machu Picchu before that 🙂

  16. I love the Moorish look. So interesting that they were designed to shield women of nobility. Thanks for another interesting post, Madhu!

    1. I too had assumed the ‘Purdah’ was an Eastern practice and was to discover that women in the West were secluded from the public gaze too! Glad you enjoyed this Ruth 🙂

  17. Beautiful Blog and how I would love to live on a street with a balcony like that. I love old dark wood and the fire was a tragedy ! Thanks for sharing! Kathryn

  18. Interessante scoprire come che lo stile moresco, così come in Spagna o in Sicilia, lo si ritrovi anche in Perù, una piacevole sorpresa.

    1. Fascinating, but not really surprising Popof. Spain incorporated Moorish elements into its architecture during the ‘reconqista’ and then exported them to the new colonies.

    2. In effetti… ho avuto la fortuna di poter ammirare lo stile moresco in Spagna ed in Portogallo come pure nella meravigliosa Sicilia… Posso confermare… :-)claudine

  19. Interesting architecture, I love your header photo, the ochre color of the walls to the right of the closed balcony is gorgeous, and I would much prefer that type of open balcony. I wonder if the windows open on the closed balconies?

    1. I prefer open balconies too Angeline, except when pigeons decide to take over the space. One of my photos shows the window open. The wooden pulley is used to operate it and it gets concealed behind a little hinged shutter in the frame when not in use!

  20. Your picture posts are all unique. As is this one. I also really appreciate the wealth of historic color you put into your posts. The balconies themselves are intriguing and amazing. Don;t you think they are a bit like our own Kashmiri balconies?

    1. They are. A bit like the Rajasthani ones too, although less ornate. These originated from the Arab, lattice worked, Mashrabiya so I bet there is a connection somewhere. Appreciate your kind words Meenakshi.

  21. The balconies are beautiful additions to the buildings! One of the things that I liked about Peru and South America was the vibrant colors that you would see in the architecture and subsequently among the dress of the people. I caught a glimpse of a VW bug in your picture, too. The picture in my last post with me next to one was actually taken in Lima.

    1. Oh I thought that was Arequipa for some reason! And yes, I remember the ‘bugs’ too 🙂

      1. Well, I did stay in Arequipa while I was there. However, the picture in my post was taken when I was in Lima when I was leaving Peru. I do have lots of pictures of VW bugs in Peru that I’ll hopefully get around to posting one of these days. Lol…Really I have so many photos from all my travels, even some years ago, that I just never posted. I keep telling myself that I will :-).

  22. Thanks for sharing this beautiful post Madhu , I really appreciate my friend 🙂

  23. Absolutely stunning photo’s for the challenges Madhu! Love them and thanks for sharing. 🙂 *hugs*

  24. Woweee.. what an insight onto Limas.. very absorbing … and you possess a distinctive narration style and aesthetics too.. great work indeed..

    1. Strange how the discordant styles work so well together isn’t it? That Wedgewood blue clashed with all the other warmer coloured facades though.

  25. Oh thank You presenting them. I have forgotten them, because it was in 70s when I visited Lima and buying Cumbia records. Your photos are enjoyable.

    1. I hope they continue to restore and conserve the remaining few. Appreciate your visit and comment Norma 🙂

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