5000 Years of Peru’s History at the Larco Museum

If you only visit one museum in Lima, make it the Larco Museum. It is one of the most impressive museums we have visited anywhere in South America.

Did you know that Peru is recognised as one of the cradles of civilisation, alongside Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China and Mesoamerica? When the pre-Columbian history of South America is mentioned, most people think of Machu Picchu and the Incas. In fact, the Inca Empire only really dominated this part of South America for about 150 years. Then the Spanish arrived, and proceeded to destroy it. Peru’s civilisation actually goes back so much further than that.

Rafael Larco Hoyle was fascinated by this 5000 years of history, and studied it his whole life. The Larco Museum is a testament to his passion.

The Larco Museum is housed in this beautiful building from the 18th century. The treasures inside show Peru's history as a 'cradle of civilisation'.

The Larco Museum is housed in this beautiful building from the 18th century. The treasures inside show Peru’s history as a ‘cradle of civilisation’.

During 2008, we were in Lima, and went to the Rafael Larco Herrera Archaeological Museum. The two impressions it left were its gallery of erotic ceramics and its huge storerooms. The museum was completely renovated (2006-10) and is now simply named Museo Larco (link to their excellent website). We visited it again recently.

Rafael Larco Hoyle founded the museum in 1926. He became one of Peru’s pre-eminent archaeologists of the 20th century. He named it after his father, and it was originally housed in his home state of La Libertad in Northern Peru. In the 1950s he decided to move it to Lima, making it more accessible to visitors and scholars from all over the world. Its new name honours both father and son.

Introductory Room

When you enter the main gallery from the reception area, you are immediately introduced to the long history of civilisation in Peru and also to the work of the museum’s founder. On one wall there is a huge timeline showing the 4 areas of Peru and the cultures inhabiting them during 7 epochs identified by Rafael Larco Hoyle.

The time-line used by Larco Hoyle to categorise the epochs of pre-Columbian Peru.

The time-line used by Larco Hoyle to categorise the epochs of pre-Columbian Peru. (An easier-to-read version available as a pdf)

Video and Reference Room

To the right there is a room showing an introductory video (you can also watch it on youtube ). And from there you can either enter the library, where you are welcome to relax and read the reference books, or enter the Cultures Gallery. There are also computers in the library for use by visitors to check out the online catalogue, or the virtual gallery in the Google Art Project.

Cultures Gallery

In the four rooms of this gallery, information about the various cultures is organised by region and chronology. Excellent examples of artefacts support the written information. Most of the exhibits are pottery, although there are also stone carvings and wooden objects. It is quite an educational experience, which is thoroughly captivating and enjoyable.

Museo Larco Cultures Gallery - a few examples of the very early pottery on display in this gallery.

Museo Larco Cultures Gallery – a few examples of the very early pottery on display in this gallery.

Cultures Gallery - in this gallery you will find hundreds of pieces on display. These are from later periods - some just pre-Inca.

Cultures Gallery – in this gallery you will find hundreds of pieces on display. These are from later periods – some just pre-Inca.

Textile Room

Even in the pre-ceramic epoch, the people of Peru were using cotton, and wool from alpacas and vicuñas, to produce textiles. This part of the gallery has some quite amazing exhibits. The desert conditions have preserved some very old examples of this handiwork. The colours and textures are surprising. The most beautiful textiles were usually created to dress the dead for the afterlife, and these were often as valuable as items created in silver and gold.

A selection of the beauty on show in the Textile Room of the Museo Larco in Lima. Included are a feather mantle, a Paracas funerary mantle, and a quipus.

A selection of the beauty on show in the Textile Room of the Museo Larco in Lima. Included are a feather mantle, a Paracas funerary mantle, and a quipus.

Sacrifice Ceremony Room

Human sacrifice was practiced in most ancient civilisations – to appease the gods, or to transform the victim onto a higher realm. The gallery dedicates this one room to representations of this practice: mostly it’s depicted in ceramic forms, but ritual knives and other implements to perform the sacrifice or ritual mutilation are also on display.

Larco Museum – a ceramic piece showing human sacrifice. In the corner, a ceremonial knife used for the purpose.

Larco Museum – a ceramic piece showing human sacrifice. In the corner, a ceremonial knife used for the purpose.

Ceremonial Vessels Room

This room displays mostly cups, bowls and other vessels, which were created to hold ceremonial liquids – water, fermented drinks and sacrificial blood. They are made of clay, wood or metal. The more precious the material, the higher the political or social position of those involved in the ceremonies.

A ceremonial gold and silver bowl from the Chimu, Imperial Epoch – on display in the Ceremonial Vessels Room of the Larco Museum.

A ceremonial gold and silver bowl from the Chimu, Imperial Epoch – on display in the Ceremonial Vessels Room of the Larco Museum.

Gold and Jewellery Gallery

The five rooms of this gallery exhibit many priceless objects. As with the textiles, some of the most impressive objects here were created for the dead to take on their journey into the afterlife.

Gold and silver represented the power of the sun and the moon to the Andean people and anything created from these metals were reserved for the most important persons in the society. The museum holds the only known complete set of gold Chimu clothing in the world. It was probably the funerary offering of a great lord buried at Chan Chan, the capital of the Chimu kingdom.

The Larco Museum Gold and Jewellery Gallery has some impressive exhibits - ear ornaments, nose ornaments, necklaces, crowns, breastplates and much more made from gold, silver, copper, precious stones, turquoise, quartz or other crystal, gemstones or shells.

The Larco Museum Gold and Jewellery Gallery has some impressive exhibits – ear ornaments, nose ornaments, necklaces, crowns, breastplates and much more made from gold, silver, copper, precious stones, turquoise, quartz or other crystal, gemstones or shells.

Storerooms open to visitors

Larco Museum has a huge collection of over 45000 pre-Columbian artefacts. Those that are not in the permanent exhibition are held on simple shelves in storerooms. Unlike most museums in the world, these storerooms are open to visitors to wander around.

The collection is also available to peruse, in an online catalogue, on their website.

Just a small portion of what you’ll see when wandering through the Storerooms of the Larco Museum.

Just a small portion of what you’ll see when wandering through the Storerooms of the Larco Museum.

Erotic Art Gallery

This is a fascinating collection of pottery depicting sex explicitly and in all aspects. As the museum explains:

This gallery provides us with a clearer understanding of the world view of the societies of ancient Peru. At the same time, it offers a unique and fascinating opportunity for the study of sexuality, free of our own myths and prejudices.

For adults only - a fine selection of pre-Hispanic ceramics in the Larco Museum Erotic Art Gallery.

For adults only – a fine selection of pre-Hispanic ceramics in the Larco Museum Erotic Art Gallery.

Beautiful gardens and amenities

The museum is set in a beautiful environment. We were there at the right time of year because the bougainvillea were completely covered in flowers. The building was the Luna Cartland family house, a mansion built in 1700.

There is an excellent restaurant, with outdoor seating under a veranda, and a view directly into the gardens. We had lunch and the food was great. There are also several shops, clean bathrooms, and iced drinking water is freely available.

This pathway leads you to the shops and the restaurant, all in a beautiful garden setting. If you visit just one museum in Lima, make it the Larco Museum.

This pathway leads you to the shops and the restaurant, all in a beautiful garden setting. If you visit just one museum in Lima, make it the Larco Museum.

The exhibits in the Larco Museum are presented in 6 languages (Spanish, English, French, Italian, German, and Japanese). We found the explanation texts used clear language and were fascinating to read.

The Larco Museum holds the only known complete set of gold Chimu funerary clothing in the world. This is it. Impressive, isn’t it?

The Larco Museum holds the only known complete set of gold Chimu funerary clothing in the world. This is it. Impressive, isn’t it?

Museo Larco Cafe-Restaurant - a lovely place to relax under a shady veranda, looking out on a beautiful garden, and eating food that looks like this.

Museo Larco Cafe-Restaurant – a lovely place to relax under a shady veranda, looking out on a beautiful garden, and eating food that looks like this.

 
With all of this you could spend several hours, if not all day here, exploring all that the Larco Museum has to offer, including shady spots to rest and admire the surroundings.
If you only visit one museum in Lima, make it the Larco Museum! This privately owned collection in superb condition needs to be praised for the informative fashion their collection is displayed. The easy to understand signs (translated into 6 languages) provide clear explanations about Peru's 5000 years of fascinating history. Beautiful surrounds and a garden restaurant invite you to relax, so you can spend a full day - if you wish so.

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Yasha

dare2go's human navigator (we're not lost because there's nowhere particular we have to be) alongside our Nexus 7 tablet, writer and editor of our blog, first cook and loving wife. Teaching English as a second language when possible.

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