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Ayacucho: History and crafts

Position, climate and poverty - history of Ayacucho - festivals - arts and crafts: shops, workshops and markets

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)



from: Dilwyn Jenkins: The rough guide to Peru; Rough Guides, New York London, Delhi; 6th edition September 2006; www.roughguides.com

The position of Ayacucho

Position and climate of Ayacucho

Roughly halfway between Cusco and Lima, AYACUCHO ("Purple Soul", in the Quechua language) sits in the Andes around 2800m high in one of Peru's most archaeologically important valleys, with evidence such as ancient stone tools found in nearby caves at Pikimachay, which suggest that the region has been occupied for over 20,000 years. Its climate, despite the altitude, is pleasant all year round - dry and temperate with blue skies nearly every day - and temperatures average 16°C (60°F). [In summer during November to April it's raining in the night].

The surrounding hills are are covered with cacti broom bushes and agave plants, adding a distinctive atmosphere to the city.

Despite the political problems of the last few years, most people on the streets of Ayacucho, although quiet and reserved (seemingly saving their energy for the city's boisterous fiestas), are helpful, friendly and kind. You'll find few people speak any English; Quechua is the city's first language, though most of the town's inhabitants can also speak some Spanish (p.341).

[Poverty in Ayacucho

Poverty is immense and school uniforms cost a lot. By this many children from the countryside have no possibility to go to school and are only speaking Quechua. They are helping in the household or making crafts when there is a family tradition. The cement company was bought by an "American" "investor" and then closed to rise the cement prices so nobody can have cheap cement any more and the "American" "investor" has higher prices with less production, all cement has to come from Lima. Water is not always coming, buses are tiny and the cars are old and never any indication in a car is working but there are only few accidents as well. In some boroughs the dry river is the trash can of the natural trash but also plastic, and when it's raining hard all trash is flowing away into the sea and the government gives the guilt to the poor. In the suburbs exist mainly cart roads or even dirt roads because money of the land owners is missing to make any pavement. At the same time natives from the cold mountain villages without any heating and current are selling their products in the town in the street, and the jungle with all it's fruits is only 200 km away and people love it].

Some history of Ayacucho

Huari culture center

Ayacucho was the center of the Huari culture, which emerged in the region around 700 AD and spread its powerful and evocative religious symbolism throughout most of Peru over the next three or four hundred years. After the demise of the Huari, the ancient city later became a major Inca administrative center.

[The Inca system was very militaristic and hard with slavery suppression and was not loved by the other natives, so at the arrival of the Spanish colonialists many native groups supported the white colonialists against the Incas].

Spanish colonialists found a new city at another place

The Spanish originally selected a different nearby site for the city at Huamanguilla (p.341). but this was abandoned in 1540 in favour of the present location (p.341). The town first was named Huamanga, then renamed into Ayacucho (p.342). Ayacucho's strategic location, vitally important to both the Incas and the Spanish colonials, meant that the city grew very wealthy as miners and administrators decided to put down roots here, eventually sponsoring the exquisite and unique wealth of the city's churches, which demonstrate the clearly high level of masonic and woodworking skills of the local crafts people.

[Spanish terror prohibited any other faith with stake and torture, and rebellion movement was starting from Ayacucho, but it was the last town liberated at the end].

Independence battle in 1824

The bloody Battle of Ayacucho, which took place near here on the Pampa de Quinoa [Quinoa prairie] in 1824, finally released Peru from the shackles of Spain. the armies met early in December, when Viceroy José de la Serna attacked Sucre's Republican force in three columns. The pro-Spanish soldiers were, however, unable to hold off the Republican forces who captured the viceroy with relative ease. Ayacucho was the last part of Peru to be liberated from colonial power.

1980s: Ayacucho was the center of the left wing in the civil war - flow of refugees to Lima - no return under Fujimori

Though quiet these days, Ayacucho was a radical university town with a long left-wing tradition, known around the world for the civil war between terrorists and the Peruvian armed forces during the 1980s. Most civilians in the region remember this era as one where they were trapped between two evils - the terrorists on the one hand and the retaliatory military on the other. Because of this, several villages were annihilated by one side or the other. A large proportion of villagers from remote settlements in the region consequently decided to leave the area, which they hoped would offer them relative safety. Despite efforts by Fujimori's government to rehabilitate these communities and entice people back from Lima to their rural homes in the 1990s, many of them remain in the capital today (p.338).

Festivals in Ayacucho

If you can be in Ayacucho for Semana Santa ["Holy Week"], the Holy Week beginning the Friday before Easter, you'll see fabulous daily processions and pageants and nightly candlelit processions centered on the Catedral. But beware of the beautiful procession of the Virgen Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows), which takes place the Friday before Palm Sunday: pebbles are fired at the crowd (particularly at children and foreigners) by expert slingers so that onlookers take on the pain of La Madre de Dios, and so supposedly reduce her suffering. Around May 23, there is the elaborate religious procession of the Fiesta de las Cruces ["Festival of crosses"], when festivities often involve the local "scissors" folk dance performed by two men, each wielding a rather dangerous pair of cutlasses (p.341).

Arts and crafts in Ayacucho

Craft shops in Ayacucho

Many visitors come for Ayacucho's thriving craft industry, mainly woven rugs and retablos ([altar pieces], finely worked little wooden boxes containing intricate three-dimensional religious scenes made mainly from papier-mâché). Among the best shops for a wide variety of arts and crafts are

-- artesanías Helme, Portal Unión 49, and

-- Pokra, [Jirón] Jr Dos de Mayo 128 (p.342);

[and there are many many other craft shops to see].

Craft workshops in Ayacucho

If you've got the time to spare, however, it's more interesting and less expensive to visit some of the actual craft workshops and buy from the artesans themselves. Most of these workshops are found in the barrio of Santa Ana, just uphill from the Plaza de Armas. Locals are always happy to guide visitors in the right direction.

Altarpieces: Some of the best-quality retablos are not all that expensive, but if you want one of their more complicated modern pieces it could cost as much as $300, and take up to three months to complete.

Rugs: For rugs, check out Edwin Sulca - probably the most famous weaver here - who lives opposite the church on the Plaza Santa Ana. His work sells from around $100 (almost double in Lima's shops), and many of his designs graphically depict the recent political horrors around Ayacucho. Gerardo Fernandez Palomino, another excellent weaver, has a store located at his house and workshop located on [Jirón] Jr Paris 600, also in Santa Ana.

Alabaster carvings: Alabaster carvings - known in Peru as Huamanga stone carvings - are another specialty of Ayacucho artesans. Señor Pizarro, [Jirón] Jr San Cristobal 215, has a reputation as one of the best carvers in town, and the craft co-operative Ahuaccllacta, Huanca Solar 130, is also worth checking out. The tourist office can also make a few recommendations (p.342).

[and there are many many other craft workshops to see. Just walk around and the doors are opened or knock at the doors when you speak Spanish].

Artesanía markets

-- Mercado Artesanal Shosaku Nogase, close to the end of Jirón 9 de Diciembre (p.342).

-- around Plazoleta Maria Pardo de Bellido

-- [Jirón] Jr Libertad, blocks 7-9, the first block of Jirón Paris, second block of Pasaje Bolognesi and the first two of Jirón Asamblea (p.342).