I never met my grandfather, but a few days ago, I got a glimpse into one of his passions: archeology. My grandpa was a Renaissance man. Aside from being an archeologist, he was also a consummate politician, a journalist, a writer, an artist. Hodgkin’s disease claimed his life when he was only 51.

My youngest aunt, Maria Sylvia and my grandfather, Ernesto Romero Diez Canseco

The chance to connect with the memory of my grandfather came unexpectedly, when my youngest aunt asked me if I had been to the Puruchuco ruins, and I said “Nope.” She couldn’t believe it – particularly because these 500-year-old Inca ruins are within Lima’s city boundaries – easily accessible to all – and are of major importance in the history of the Inca civilization.

My grandpa used to take my aunt there when she was kid – and she wanted to share the experience with my cousin and I. As my aunt maneuvered her car around the congested city streets, I imagined her taking this same trip with her dad, except that in those days, the roads were free of traffic, noise, and pollution. She told us how she would run around the ancient ruins like a wild child, with no one in sight to impede her from exploring. She shared memories of hanging out with her dad and his good friend, Dr. Arturo Jiménez Borja, who dedicated much of his life to excavating, studying, and carefully restoring the ruins. He lived there for many years, curating an in situ museum – the first of its kind in South America. Such was his dedication to the preservation of these ruins that he wished to be buried there – and he was.

Huaca Puruchuco

Above: View from hills of the Inca complex. The structure was constructed to have separate “sectors.” Each sector was designated for a specific purpose: There was a residential area, an area dedicated to religious activities, an area for storing food, and a public area where people got together to barter, conduct social activities, and meet with the governor

In Situ Museum

Museum’s patio with a view of higher ruins above

Peruvian “Suche” (Plumeria).  It is a tropical tree, yet it grows well in this dry, desert-like climate

Suche trees adorn the Museum’s patio

Puruchuco, meaning a feathered hat or feathered helmet in Quechua (the official language of the Inca Empire) is a beautiful pre-Hispanic building located in the Ate-Vitarte district, in Lima. It is a palace constructed in the time of the Incas (1450-1532, AD). This is where the governor – the highest local authority figure tied to the Inca occupation of the valley of Lima – lived with his family. This is also where constituents would have audiences with the ruler.


A high wall surrounds the fortification, with one entrance strategically located in a corner of the palace, adjacent to a bastion built for defense against attackers

Triangular niches. It is thought this is where the residing Incas stored/displayed idols of their gods

Public area: A lateral ramp leading up to the higher terrace with a “sunken court” below where it is thought the governor probably headed local ceremonies and held audiences with his constituents. This area was also used for commercial activities (barter of goods)

Narrow Hallways and Passageways

Steps can be seen throughout the fortification – they connect a labyrinth of rooms, hallways, storage areas, and open spaces

Windows on the buildings were built high on the wall to provide light, yet privacy

View from the inside of one of the many rooms in the residential sector. The ceiling (which has been reconstructed) is made out of Peruvian bamboo

Below: The “keyhole” was typical of the Ychsmas culture – late Intermediate Period from 900 to 1450 AD.

Beginning in the mid-50’s to the mid-60’s, my grandfather’s friend and museum and ruins curator, Dr. Jiménez Borja, discovered at least 3 important mummy bundles at Puruchuco. The bundles were large cocoons that held up to seven individuals and weighed as much as 400 pounds, as well as dozens of personal items, weapons, food, and textiles. Amazingly, the doctor had the opportunity to open the bundles containing the Inca mummies in front of live audiences in Santiago (Chile), Lima, and Paris between 1957 and 1966.

After some further research, I’ve learned that since 1999 archeologists have dug out thousands of mummies at Puruchuco – which is now known to be the second largest Inca cemetery ever excavated in Peru.  (National Geographic, May 2002).

Here’s a link to an insightful video I found by National Geographic in 2002 about the Puruchuco ruins and its mummies.

As I write this, I’m reflecting on the power of cultural and familial legacy. Had my grandfather not taken my aunt along to learn about Puruchuco, I would most likely have missed the opportunity to learn about this amazing site and its history. By taking me there, just as her father had done with her time and time again, my aunt helped me get a deeper sense of the man my grandfather was.

On the day we went, we were the only ones exploring the ruins. Ducking through the narrow doorways, exploring the maze of rooms, and walking along the same ancient paths my grandfather had once walked, I felt connected to the man I never knew. Thanks, Tía!

The Puruchuco ruins and Museum are open to the public Tuesday – Sunday from 9 am to 4 pm. Tel:  494-2641. Address: Carretera Central Km. 4.5 – Ate Vitarte. Entrance fee is 5 soles (less than $2) per person. Your ticket includes entrance to the small, but very informative museum and a visit inside the palace.