Between 1856 and 1862, guano resources were used to erect one of the largest and most emblematic buildings in Lima, which would be known as ‘The Penitentiary of Lima’ or ‘The Panopticon’.| Composition Infobae Peru
In the heart of Lima, where today the majestic Real Plaza, Centro Cívico and the luxurious Sheraton hotel are located, a fascinating history is hidden beneath the modern and commercial appearance.
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This site was once the largest prison in Peru, known as La Penitenciaría, and over the years it has undergone an astonishing transformation.
During the republican period, the country would be plagued by maroons and bandits, considered today as criminals. Some of them even participated in political campaigns. Insecurity had increased: robberies, assaults, cogoteros, murderers, it was a scenario that was experienced daily in the City of Kings – nothing very far from today. As a result, citizens insisted that it was necessary to implement severe punishment.
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At that time, the prisons that existed were small and had administration problems, which made these prisons very unsafe places.
In 1853, the former magistrate of Cajamarca, Mariano Felipe Paz Soldán, began an investigation into the feasibility of establishing an innovative prison in Peru, one that would actually succeed in rehabilitating men who had fallen into crime and put them on the path to a better life. straight.
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During his analysis, the jurist considered visiting the United States to inquire about prison situations in that country:
Auburn model: which occurred in the 19th century and was based on daytime work and night confinement. Philadelphia model: this pattern consisted of the continuous isolation of criminals.
Mariano identified the main criminals as those of indigenous ancestry or ‘cholos’, and thus began the process of conceiving the Auburn model during Ramón Castilla’s mandate in Peru.
Between 1856 and 1862, guano resources were used to erect one of the largest and most emblematic buildings in Lima, which would be known as ‘The Penitentiary of Lima’ or ‘The Panopticon’. Its location was chosen in the center of the city, in what today includes the Real Plaza Shopping Center, the Civic Center and the Sheraton Hotel.
In the mid-19th century, this space had to satisfy certain essential criteria:
Security: It had to be designed in a way that was resistant to possible external threats. Reintegration: The aim was to ensure that inmates were not simply imprisoned, but could contribute in some way to society and acquire useful skills. Religious aspect: The teaching of Christianity by part of the chaplain in the Penitentiary was used for the purpose of molding obedient individuals.The penitentiary was built between 1856 and 1860. It held thousands of prisoners inside from its inauguration in 1862 during the government of Ramón Castilla, until its final closure in 1961. Photo: The Lima that does not go away
In 1866 the first reports of problems began to arrive:
After four years, only eight cells remained available for new inmates. A secret plan was discovered among the prisoners to try to escape. During routine inspections in the prison, tools were found that had been stolen from the internal workshops. The most critical situation was It was related to diseases, a result of extreme overcrowding, with pulmonary consumption being one of the most serious.After the Panopticon was demolished, this was the land that remained, where the Sheraton Hotel and the Civic Center – Real Plaza now stand, between Wilson, Bolivia and Paseo de los Héroes Navales | Photo: Lima La Única
In 1890, the Minister of Justice wrote a highly critical report on the Lima Penitentiary. In this document, the existence of physical interactions between inmates and visitors was highlighted, in addition to pointing out that an environment had been established in prisons where a paradise of alcohol and gambling existed. The minister maintained that the best solution would be to return to the system of physical punishment.
During Leguía’s eleventh century, one of the most famous prisoners would be Augusto B. Leguía, who, through a direct order from Sánchez Cerro, was disembarked from the ship ‘Grau’ and later captured.
After this event, he was sent to the island of San Lorenzo, where it became clear that his freedom would never be regained. At that time, Sánchez Cerro stated that Leguía would remain in prison for the entire duration of his government.
Two weeks later, another order from the Government Palace ordered his transfer to the Central Penitentiary of Lima, commonly known as the Panopticon.
Leguía experienced difficulties in prison, mainly due to his advanced age and the illness he suffered from. On November 16, 1931, he was transferred to the Bellavista Naval Clinic to undergo surgery. However, on November 18, a dynamite explosion was cruelly thrown into the hospital, falling a short distance from the room where the patient was, despite the fact that his improvement had been announced. Despite the efforts, he died in the hospital on February 6, 1932, at the age of 69.
Leguía experienced difficulties in prison, mainly due to his advanced age and the illness he suffered from. Despite his best efforts, he died in the naval hospital at the age of 69. | Photo: Lima La Única
The prison was facing the need to adapt to a Peru that was modernizing at an increasingly accelerated pace. The old building, built with materials from the last century, began to become an obstacle in the midst of Lima’s aesthetic evolution.
In 1961, President Mariano Prado Ugarteche decided to transfer inmates to other prison facilities, such as El Frontón and El Sexto, which eventually led to the demolition of what was at the time the largest prison in Lima.
The demolition of the La Penitenciaría prison and the missing Belén Church (current Lima Center Gallery). | Photo: Lima La Única
For several years, this land remained empty and desolate. However, in 1970, construction of the Sheraton hotel began on the site: it was the first hotel of a foreign chain in the country and the first five-star hotel.
During that same year, an architectural competition was held in which a group of architects erected a structure known as the Civic Center. Initially, this space was intended to house government offices and a shopping center. However, during the riots of February 5, 1975, widely known as the ‘Limazo’, the structure suffered significant damage, as part of it caught fire. Due to this incident, the Civic Center was abandoned, even though it continued to hold the title of being the tallest building in Peru at the time. In the 80s and 90s, unfortunately, it became a frequent place for people looking to commit suicide.
In 2007, the Interbank group won the tender to develop this land for 30 years, leading to the construction of the Real Plaza Centro Cívico. It should be noted that this shopping center is one of the most visited by citizens as it is located in the Center of Lima.
This is the land that today is occupied by the Real Plaza Centro Cívico, the Torre de Lima and the Sheraton Hotel. | Composition: Infobae