Even though people had been living in the area for thousands of years and developed the countryside into a green oasis with extensive fields and fruit plantations, Lima celebrates its birthday on January 18, the day the Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro founded the colonial city in 1535.
After taking Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire, Pizarro was looking for a suitable place to establish "his" city. In the dessert stripe between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes in the fertile valley of the Rimac River (and two other rivers nearby that provided fresh water) he found that place. The location offered an easy access to coastal fishing grounds, a good infrastructure and it was close to the natural harbor of Callao.
What soon would become the "City of Kings" or just Lima, was back then home to an estimated 150,000 indigenous people in a region called Cuismanco and governed by the ruler Taulichusco.
On the 18th of January 1535 however, the Spaniards took over and founded Lima basing the design and layout of the new capital on cities in Spain (especially Seville) and completely destroying the indigenous settlement. Pizarro's Palace for example, later called Palace of the Viceroys of Peru and today Presidential Palace was built on the site of the home of the former ruler Taulichusco; a former religious temple was stripped down to its foundation and Lima’s Cathedral built on top of it; and the indigenous population was forced to slave labor building the capital.
From then on Lima had its ups and downs surviving uprisings, natural disasters including earthquakes and tsunamis, tough economic times, (civil) war, the Independence, terrorism and the influx of thousands of migrants. Today the Peruvian capital with its more or less 10 million people is a melting pot of different cultures and the financial, economic and cultural center of Peru.
The anniversary of the foundation of the colonial city is still celebrated each year on January 18 with a wide variety of cultural and artistic festivities around town.
Usually, already the day before celebrations start in the afternoon at the Plaza de Armas in Lima's historic city center with the "Gran Serenata de Lima". The birthday serenade includes music, theater and dance performances, a parade and at midnight big fireworks.
The official celebrations of the anniversary are early in the morning (around 06.00 am – 06.30 am) on January 18 with a 21-gun salute followed by the raising of the Peruvian flag and playing of the National anthem at Lima’s Plaza de Armas. At 10.00 am a traditional mass and Te Deum is celebrated at the Cathedral of Lima.
Additionally, there are numerous concerts, folklore shows, food and drinks, theater and other activities around town. Parks and some museum usually offer free entrance and special entertainment.