Lima is the industrial, commercial, and political center of the country. It now houses more than 6,500,000 people and has several museums that are very worth-while visiting, such as the Archaeological Museum, the Gold Museum, Larco Herrera Museum, etc. Lately it has grown in a rather disorderly fashion to inadequate development policies. Yet for a society with significant problems, today's Limeons still enjoy a relaxed way of life, as they have done for centuries. This becomes more evident during the summer (December to March), when you see them surfing or sunbathing on soft sandy beaches, in a ritual that seems to remind us of their bond with their ancestor's god: the Sun.
Lima is the capital of Peru and of its most populous department. The city lies at the heart of the largest conurbation on the western side of South America: nearly 26 percent of Peru's population resides in Lima. Lima is in fact, a huge oasis in the very arid Peruvian coastal area (with less than 2 inches of average annual rainfall, hedged between the Pacific coast and the foot of the Andes. The site, on the southern banks of the Rio Rimac, 13 kilometers from the coast, was chosen in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro because of the adequate supply of water from the river, the irrigated agriculture in the area, a headland, and an adjoining elongated island along the nearby coast, which provided good anchorage and protection for ships. Callao, which was built on this headland, is Lima's harbor. The site is also advantageous for access inland.
The Spaniards made it the capital of most of their colonial possessions in South America and only toward the end of the colonial period was its dominance confined to the Viceroyalty of Peru. The Spanish city was laid out in a rectangular pattern around a central square (plaza), a pattern that the old city retains to this day, although much of the original city was ruined by an earthquake in 1746. The city and conurbation has been growing rapidly since the beginning of the twentieth century, first in the south, where settlements that grew into towns became the first suburbs of Lima, then westward into the open area separating Lima from Callao. Many old colonial style buildings have been preserved in the older part of the city, which now forms Lima's center. These include the cathedral, churches, government buildings, and private mansions. Some of the towns in the southwestern part of the conurbation, such as Miraflores, are wealthy residential suburbs and seaside resorts.
Lima dominates Peru's economic and cultural life. It has five national Universities (including the Universidad Mayor de San Marcos, which is the oldest in the Americas) and seven private universities, attended by a total of more than 150,000 students. There are also many museums and galleries.