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Lima was christened the ‘City of Kings’ when Francisco Pizarro founded it on the Catholic feast day of Epiphany in 1535. During early Spanish colonial times it became the continent’s richest, most important town, though this all changed in 1746 when a disastrous earthquake wiped out most of the city. However, rebuilding was rapid, and most of the old colonial buildings still to be seen here date from after the earthquake.

Argentinean General José de San Martín proclaimed Peruvian independence from Spain here on July 28, 1821. Three decades later the city took a crucial step over other cities on the continent by building the first railway in South America. In 1881 Lima was attacked during a war with Chile. Treasures were carried off or broken by the victorious Chileans, who occupied the town for nearly three years.

An unprecedented population explosion began in the 1920s due to rapid industrialization and an influx of rural poor from throughout Peru, especially the highlands. Such growth – and growing pains – have continued at a breakneck pace ever since. Today the city has a few wealthy and middle-class suburbs, but many people are unemployed and live with inadequate housing and no running water.

In December 1996 Tupac Amaru leftist rebels entered the Japanese ambassador’s residence and took several ambassadors and ministers hostage. Four months went by before Peruvian soldiers bombed the building, entered and shot the rebels. One hostage and two Peruvian commandos died during the rescue operation.

In March 2002, a few days before a visit by US President George W Bush, a car bomb exploded near the US Embassy, killing ten people. It was thought to have been detonated by the guerrilla group Sendero Luminoso, which had caused massive social instability in the 1980s.