Museums & Colonial Houses
Ayacucho's pretty and placid Plaza Mayor (also called the Plaza de Armas), the epitome of a highland town square and the heart of the city, is lined by grand 16th- to 18th-century homes with stone arches and colonial red-tile roofs. It is one of the best surviving examples of colonial architecture in Peru. Eight walkways radiate out from the center in the form of a star, and you'll probably find yourself crisscrossing the square several times a day. The plaza's lovely gardens and soaring views of the cathedral and surrounding mountains make it a perfect place to occupy an iron bench and watch locals get their pictures made around the Monument to Antonio José de Sucre in the center.
On the south side of the plaza (Portal Municipal 49) is the Basílica Menor, or La Catedral, ordered built by King Philip in 1612 and completed in 1672. Beyond an ornate stone facade and two bell towers are three naves, an elaborately carved pulpit, silver and gold-leaf altars, and a collection of colonial-era religious paintings. The cathedral is open to visitors Monday through Saturday from 5 to 7pm, and Sunday from 9am to 5pm; admission is free.
In a handsome colonial building on the east side of the Plaza Mayor, Portal Unión 28, is the Museo de Arte Popular Joaquín López Antay (tel. 066/812-467). The museum, which is the best place to get an overview of the highly prized artisanship and crafts that Ayacucho and surrounding villages are so renowned for, occupies several rooms around the central courtyard (the BCP bank inside the courtyard could be one of the best-looking banks you've seen). You'll find an excellent selection of colorful and tactile hand-woven rugs, filigreed silver, and ubiquitous ceramic churches and red-clay figures of musicians. On display are several works of Peru's most famous retablista (altar artist), for whom the museum is named. López Antay, who had a number of international exhibits and was awarded the National Culture Prize in 1975, considered himself a sculptor rather than an artisan. Don't miss the second floor, which has some of the finest examples of popular art, many of them valuable antiques. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10:15am to 5:30pm, and Saturday from 9:45am to 12:15pm; admission is free.
The Museo Cáceres (also known as Casona Vivanco), Jr. 28 de Julio 508 (tel. 066/836-166), is a good example of a historic colonial-era casona, or mansion. Inside is a collection of original Escuela Cusqueña art, carved baroque furniture, colonial ceramics, and leather Spanish trunks. The original inhabitant of the house, Mariscal Cáceres, was a hero of Peru's War of the Pacific with Chile. The museum is open daily from 9am to 1pm and from 2 to 6pm; admission is S/4.
The Plaza Mayor is lined with other notable colonial houses, which belonged to the most powerful citizens of Ayacucho, including Casona Cristóbal Castilla y Zamora, Portal Municipal 50 (tel. 066/312-230; Mon-Fri 8:15am-3:45pm); and Casona del Corregidor Nicolás Boza y Solís, Portal Constitución 15 (tel. 066/312-229; Mon-Fri 8am-noon and 2-6pm). Casona del Marqués de Mozobamba (also known as Casona Olano), Jr. 28 de Julio 175, is one of the most distinguished examples of 16th-century colonial architecture in the city. Casona Ruíz de Ochoa y Monreal (better known as Casona Jáuregui), Jr. 2 de Mayo 210 (tel. 066/314-299; Mon-Fri 8am-5pm), facing Templo de La Merced, is a handsomely restored, bright yellow 18th-century house with stone arches and blue doors, balconies, and shutters.
Anyone with an interest in colonial churches will be in heaven in Ayacucho, which overflows with 33 examples, dating back as far as 1540, in a relatively small downtown area. In fact, Ayacucho is one of the few Peruvian cities that retains a significant colonial architectural core. Most churches can be visited only during Mass hours on Sunday.
North of the Plaza Mayor, and perhaps the most visually striking of the collection, is the finely sculpted Templo de Santo Domingo (1548), Jirón 9 de Diciembre at Jirón Bellido, the city's second convent. Its unique facade is marked by rustic earth-colored bricks, two towers framing a row of spikes, and three Romanesque arches at the ground level.
The majority of churches are south and west of the Plaza Mayor. Little except for an exterior wall and an original squat bell tower remains of Templo de San Cristóbal, Jirón 28 de Julio at Jirón 2 de Mayo, the first church in Ayacucho, constructed in 1540 and one of the oldest churches in South America. Built of brick and adobe, it was quite evidently a simple and rustic design. Templo de la Compañía de Jesús (1605), Jirón 28 de Julio between Jirón Lima and Jirón San Martín, founded as a Jesuit school and church, is an imposing baroque brick structure a half-block west of the Plaza Mayor. Its massive towers were added in the 18th century. Templo y Convento de La Merced (1540), Jirón 2 de Mayo at Jirón San Martín, the second church and first convent in Ayacucho, is well worth a visit. It was begun the year of the Spanish founding of the city.
Templo de Santa Teresa (1703), Jr. 28 de Julio s/n, faces a pretty, serene plaza across from San Cristóbal. You must first enter the convent, to the right of the church, and ask permission to visit the church (it remains a convent of 20 cloistered Carmelite nuns), which is entered around the corner from the plaza. The main altar is a fabulously chunky example of gold-leaf carving. Santa Clara de Asís (1568), Jirón Grau at Nazareno, the first monastery in Ayacucho and the second in Peru, has the largest tower in the city. Inside are good examples of mudéjar (Moorish-style) woodcarving and an interesting sculpture of the Immaculate Conception on the main altar.
Other colonial churches of interest to completists are San Francisco de Asís (1552), Jirón 28 de Julio at Jirón Vivanco, the only church besides the cathedral to have three naves; the baroque Templo de Santa María Magdalena (1588), Jirón Sol at Avenida Mariscal Cáceres, founded by the Dominican order but a three-time victim of fire; and the small and sweet snow-white Templo del Arco (1822), Plazoleta María Parado de Bellido, near the Mercado Artesanal in the El Arco district (north of the Plaza Mayor). In any direction you walk, however, there are lasting examples of religious architecture marking Ayacucho's colonial importance.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.