On January 18, 1535, Francisco Pizarro founded the City of Kings - La Ciudad de Reyes in the valley of the Rimac River. Today, we know it as Lima the capital of Peru. The city began to be built 12 km from the estuary of the river to the Pacific. A shape similar to a triangle was plotted, the longer side of which ran along the south bank of the river. The area of the future city was divided into 117 quarters, which were squares with a side of 120 m. The central point of the town was the square with the church (today's cathedral) occupying the area of two quarters. Nearby, to the north-west of the square, on the banks of the river, two other quarters were marked out, which Pizzaro gave to the Order of Preachers, i.e. the Dominicans. On the day when the city was founded, the first stone for the construction of the future Dominican monastery was laid. In 1536, the Vicar General, Fr. Juan de Olias, began the construction of the church and the monastery. The main cloister of the monastery was built at the end of the 16th century by Father Salvador de Ribera, the bishop of Quito.
An important date in the history of Santo Domingo is the raising of the monastery church of Our Lady of the Rosary to the rank of a minor basilica, which took place on February 11, 1929. Perhaps this event is related to the supposition that the last major reconstruction of the patio took place in the 1920s. This is also confirmed by the oral messages of the Dominican Fathers from the monastery in Lima. It was probably during this time that the decoration made of azulejos tiles was placed on the walls.
Without going into detailed analyzes of the architectural changes of the main cloister over the centuries, it can be said that the core of the ceramic decoration is composed of tiles from Spain from the early 17th century.
The main cloister was built on a quadrangle plan similar to a square, connecting with the church building by the south-eastern wall. The arcades closing the arcades from the side of the garden are supported by columns with a square cross-section. Eight arcades were built on three sides of the patio, while nine arcades were built on the fourth, north-east side. Only the northern and western corners of the cloister have right angles, which is due to the greater length of the north-east wall. The arcade depth ranges from 400 cm to 422 cm. The distances between the columns supporting the arcades are varied and range from 230 to 240 cm (measured at floor height). The width of the walls covered with azulejos decoration is approx. 3890 cm, except for the north-eastern wall, which is approx. 4255 cm. The decorative strip of azulejos on the walls reaches a height of 307 cm, rising from a plinth 48 cm high.
In the corners of the cloister there are four altars with wooden, polychrome sculptures placed above the mensa decorated with ceramic decorations of azulejos tiles.
The most important element of the decoration of the main cloister of the monastery are azulejos ceramic tiles. They cover the walls and the columns supporting the cloister ceiling. The tiles also decorate the walls of the fountain standing in the middle of the garden and the wall surrounding it. The arrangement of decorations visible today is a composition made up of tiles made in several periods and reconstructions of the patio taking place in its long history.
On May 7, 1604, Father Francisco de Vego, Definitor of the Order of Santo Domingo from the Province of San Juan Bautista in Peru, concluded a contract with the potter Hernando de Valladares (son of Juan de Valladares, who ran the family workshop in the years 1590-1630) for the production and delivery of a significant number of azulejos tiles for the decoration of the monastery in Lima. Valladeres's workshop was located in Seville in the Triana district and was one of the well-known and prosperous ceramic workshops. It could boast of production for the needs of such cities as its native Seville, Cádiz, Cordoba, Evora or Lisbon, as well as export to distant Mexico and Lima.
The tiles with the dates 1604, 1606 and 1607 on the walls of the cloister of Santo Domingo come from the workshop of Hernando de Valladares. They probably were not installed right away, though.
On September 23, 1619, Fr. Francisco de Avandano signed a contract with the potter Juan Martín Garrido to make more tiles for the monastery (it is assumed that Garrido came to Lima in 1616 to install tiles on the walls of the monastery). He probably made his commission using local production modeled on tiles from the Viceroy's Palace [orig. Palacio del Virrey]. He also probably installed the previously purchased tiles from Seville and those manufactured by himself. It took place in the year 1620. The authorship of some of the tiles made by him is confirmed by the inscription "FECIT GARRIDO" and the time by the date "1620". He is also credited with plaques bearing the inscription "VIVA MARIA".
The last important creator of the ceramic patio decoration is Juan del Corral, active in Lima. His workshop was in Lima probably from 1630. He was considered to be the most outstanding creator of azulejos in Lima, active in the years 1638-1665. He has completed many prestigious commissions, among others for the San Francisco monastery. The last documents mentioning his activities come from May 13, 1665, which is probably the year of his death.
In the years 164-1665, he completed the missing ceramic decoration in the main cloister of Santo Domingo. He conducted other orders for this monastery independently. Particularly interesting is the partially preserved decoration of the staircase of the main cloister dating from 1664 to April 1665. There are hunting motifs and elements of the landscape, such as in the depiction of St. Izydor Oracz. Similar features can be found in the scene depicting St. John the Baptist and the scene of Jesus' baptism in Jordan, which is now the central element of the decoration of the ceramic south-west wall. It is likely that the scene was originally located on the landing of the aforementioned staircase and was later moved to the current exhibition site. The later fragments of decoration from the 18th and even the 20th century are not properly documented.
J. Martusewicz, H. Stoksik, Decoración de cerámica del patio principal del Convento de Santo Domingo en Lima, Perú. Análisis tecnológico de azulejos, [in:] Estudios Latinoamericanos, 43 (2022).
The monastery today
The monastery is still functioning today, and it also houses a museum which can be visited. In addition to the beautiful cloister to which our virtual walk is devoted, we can also visit the library containing valuable collections of 25,000 volumes or the bell tower from which you can admire Lima from a height of 46 meters. The tour of the museum itself includes 16 rooms where you can admire the original works from the 16th century. Peruvian saints are particularly venerated here: St. Rose of Lima (patron saint of South America), St. Martin de Porres and St. Jan Macías.