Settlement Patterns

Peru Table of Contents

In pre-Columbian eras, the highland population was ensconced on ridges, hillsides, and other locations that did not interfere with farming priorities. Large ceremonial buildings, temples, or administrative centers, were, however, located in central locations, often apart from the residences of average persons. By the time of conquest, the Incas had rearranged settlements to suit their own vision of administrative needs in conquered areas. Thus, Inca planners and architects constructed special towns and cities, such as Huánuco Viejo, to handle their needs.

With Viceroy Francisco Toledo y Figueroa's colonial reforms in the late sixteenth century, however, the traditional Andean settlement patterns were drastically altered through the establishment of settlements called reductions ( reducciones), which were located in the less advantageous areas, and the founding of new Spanish towns and cities. The reduction system forced native Americans to settle in nucleated villages and towns, which were easily controlled by their masters, the encomenderos, as well as clergy and regional governors ( corregidores de indios). The Spaniards also established their own towns, which were off limits to most native peoples except for occasional religious celebrations or for work assignments. These towns eventually became home to the dominant mestizo. As the municipal and economic centers of each district and province, these mestizo towns (poblachos mestizos) remain the dominant settlements, constituting the district and provincial capitals throughout the country. Today, virtually all of the small towns and villages throughout the highlands are either the product of the reduction system of forced relocation or were established as Spanish colonial municipalities.

The striking similarities among settlements in terms of design and architecture are no accident. Virtually all settlements thus exhibit the grid pattern or model of rectangular blocks arranged around a town square, universally known as the arms plaza (plaza de armas). This design reflects the military dimension of the conquest culture, the central place in an encampment being where armaments were kept when not deployed. By direct analogy, it also demonstrates and symbolizes central authority and power. Typically, then, the most important residents lived close to the plaza de armas, in the most prominent houses. Status, conferred by birth, race, and occupation, was confirmed by a central urban residence. In modern practice, status has continued to be reflected in a hierarchy of urban residence descending from Lima to the departmental, provincial, and district capitals. No one of importance or power is rural.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress