The Real Felipe Fortress in Lima is the greatest Colonial-era fortress on the entire west coast of South America. It might even be argued that it is the greatest fortress in the Eastern Pacific. This is due in no small part to Lima’s isolation on the far side of Panama, which insulated Peru from the colonial wars and pirate attacks which ravaged the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico during the Spanish colonial period. It was also the very last toehold of the Spanish Empire in South America, and the site of the last attempt by the Spanish to reclaim Peru a few decades later. It is now one of the best surviving colonial fortresses in South America, and home to one of Peru’s best museums.
Peru was the greatest and wealthiest Spanish colony on the west coast of the Americas. Thanks to its isolated position, it was also one of the most secure. Few pirates, and fewer enemy naval ships, made their way around the tip of South America to threaten this most isolated colonial territory. Nevertheless, the size and wealth of the capital city of Lima still made it an attractive target for maurauders.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Lima was enclosed by an immense wall, making it the largest walled city ever built on the west coast of the Americas. The wall kept the city safe until 1746, when most of the city was leveled by an earthquake. In the aftermath, rather than rebuild the outdated wall, the Spanish decided that a new coastal fortress would be a better defense for the city.
Over the next three decades, the Real Felipe Fortress was built to defend Lima’s port at Callao. This was the last, and possibly the largest, colonial fortress ever built by the Spanish. Its mere presence effectively deterred sea raids for the next half century. More importantly, it was used to deter the threat of internal rebellion.
During the early 19th century, the Spanish colonial empire was rocked by internal strife. One-by-one all of the old territories on continent broke free from Spain. Like its counterpart Veracruz in Mexico, the city of Lima was the last loyalist stronghold in South America. The Real Felipe Fortress continued to hold out until 1826. In the latter half of the 20th century, long after becoming obsolete, the fort was restored for use as the national Peruvian Army Museum.
The Real Felipe Fortress is a late-colonial gunpowder fort built at the height of the architectural era. It is one of the best and most perfect examples of a star fort in the Americas. It appears from above like a somewhat elongated pentagon, with five massive ramparts at the corners. The only access is through the main gate on the northeastern wall.
The interior of the fortress is virtually intact, with almost all of its original buildings still standing and still in use. The main buildings are the King’s Tower and the Queen’s Tower. Also inside are the old customs house, which now houses Peru’s military museum.
The Real Felipe Fortress dominates the small peninsula that shelters the harbor at Callao, approximately 15 miles northwest of downtown Lima. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.visitlima.pe (official website).
Spanish forts on the west coast of the Americas were few and far between. However, Peru is home to some of the best pre-Columbian fortresses, thanks to the Incas. The two best, both within reasonable distance of Lima along the coast, are the Acaray Fortress and Chankillo Fortress, both of which predate the arrival of the Spanish by many centuries.