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EL CALLAO


From the time of the beginning of the Spanish Conquest of America, and for a long time since, the Port of El Callao was the most important maritime enclave on the Western coasts of the new continent.

It is located to the West of the City of Lima. Its ground is almost flat but it gently slides towards the sea, where a large bay gets formed.

It was formerly an ancient village of indigenous fishermen located on the area called Pitipiti, where the Neighbourhood of Chucuito can be found today, and in the vicinity of Bocanegra and Maranga. The first was an old ranch owned by the Jesuits until their ousting from the Colonies and the latter was another indigenous settlement, nowadays a residential area.

According to the authors of the Chronicles of the Conquest the presence of the bay in which El Callao was later located, was a decisive fact for the election of Lima as the Capital City of the new Vice-Royalty, due to the short distance between both places.

It is also known that on March 6th of 1537, the Town Council of Lima or Cabildo de la Ciudad de los Reyes (City of the Kings, since it was founded on January 6th , the day the Spaniards call Bajada de Reyes in memory of their visit to Jesus in his crib) sent Diego Ruiz to establish a store in the small village that was already being regarded as its natural port, in order to ship to Spain the treasures that were being looted from the ancient Peru.

There was no formal foundation of this Port, which was the main reason for the absence of a Main Square on its grounds as most of the principal cities with Spanish origins customarily possess. Its growth happened as need aroused.
br> During the times of the Colony it became a walled and fortified city. There was an excellent dock of stone, seven churches, five convents and the Hospital of San Juan de Dios, the latter of which became utterly destroyed during the earthquake of October 28th 1746. It was only through the sheer efforts of its inhabitants that it became rebuilt.

In the times of the Independency Wars its population engaged in an active participation on them, although the Royalists maintained the Port as their main stronghold to defend the Spanish Crown's possessions. From the Fortress of Real Felipe, built in 1746, the liberation fleet commanded by Lord Cochrane was twice rejected in 1819, and again it resisted the sea blockade installed by order of General San Martín in 1820.

Years later, once the Emancipation was achieved, the Convención Nacional gave its unanimous approval on April 22nd of 1857 to name the Port as "Provincia Constitucional del Callao", as has been known since.

In the present days it holds the key to the Capital of the Nation due to its important maritime port, one of the most important ones on the South American Coast and thanks also to the International Airport "Jorge Chávez".

Although the fact that it shares the same geographical area with Lima, its administration is totally independent from the Capital, because of its nomination as "Provincia Constitucional." Its extension reaches 148 square kilometres and it holds a population of 600 thousand people.

Its Capital is El Callao and comprises the Districts of Bellavista, La Perla, La Punta, Carmen de la Legua y Ventanilla. The average temperature is similar to the one of Lima, with a mostly humid climate but with only some few meagre drizzling rains.

In the Centre of El Callao rises the Fortaleza del Real Felipe Fortress, built in a pentagonal layout in the 18th Century in order to repel the attacks from pirates and corsairs, and which later played an important role during the Independence Wars.

In its surroundings is located the Main Iglesia Matriz Church, the Capitanía del Puerto (Port Captaincy) and the Museo Naval Museum. From the latter's front yard begins a street that takes the visitor towards the District of La Punta, a long peninsula encrusted into the Pacific Ocean and hosting the Naval Base, besides round stony beaches, the old walkway by the sea and a handsome residential area that flourished among the decades of the forties and fifties.

A few kilometres into the sea stands the San Lorenzo Island, with some archaeological relevance and the El Frontón Islet, at presently an abandoned prison that used to hold highly dangerous criminals.

Due to its proximity to the sea, El Callao has a humid climate during most of the year, but on Summer time it turns warm and sunny.

To access El Callao there are at least three main arteries that connect it with the Historical Centre of Lima. Those are the Avenida Argentina (an industrial zone), the Avenida Venezuela (of an industrial and residential mixture) and the Avenida Oscar R. Benavides (mostly known as Colonial) Avenues. The latter is the historical way over which all transit went through, from the beginnings of the Colonial times up to the early 20th Century.

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