Located in the central-south part of Peru’s central Andean region, the department of Ayacucho offers visitors and local residents an uneven natural landscape marked by deep valleys, plateaus, canyons, snowy areas, warm areas and even rain-forests in close proximity.
The most common characteristics of the people of the region are their hospitality, friendliness, absolute respect and great passion for their history and sense of belonging to their homeland.
At present, the names Huamanga and Ayacucho continue to be used in conjunction with the department. Officially, the name of the main city is Ayacucho, just like the name of the region, whereas Huamanga is only used to refer to the province, even though the people of the region identify themselves more with the latter. The origins of the name Huamanga date back to pre- Hispanic times. Ayacucho started to be used after Simon Bolivar issued the Decree of February 25th, 1825 in honor of the Battle of Ayacucho. The date is without a doubt a major historic landmark without precedent in the history of America, and highlights the importance of the region.
The history of Ayacucho goes back to 20,000 B.C., date attributed to the remains of what is considered to be the first human being in the southern part of the American continent, specifically in the cave of Pikimachay.
Thereon after, the region went through several cultural periods, which include the archaic period; the so-called Formative Period of the Chavin culture; the period of the Huarpa culture, known for its regional development; the Wari empire, marked by its revolutionary imperial expansion; the Chanka-Pogra culture; the well-known Inca empire; and the pre-Hispanic foundations.
Spanish domination of the area began on the January 9th, 1539 (according to historians, although it is just the closest date) and the first settlement was called Villa de San Juan de la Frontera de Huamanga, in honor of San Juan (Saint John) and because it was on the border (frontera) of the area dominated by Spain and the one under the control of the rebel ‘Manco Inca’.
During this period the city underwent major artistic development closely linked to the different religious congregations that arrived from Spain to “christianize” the indigenous population. It became an administrative, military, residential and commercial centre in which Spaniards, Indians and Arabs lived together with slaves, mestizos and Yanacona and Mitima indians.
Independence from Spain started to take shape in the 18th century as a result of the economic, social and political situation in both Spain and in America. Instability contributed to the independence movements, particularly in the area of Huamanga under the leadership of Juan Antonio Alvarez de Arenales, head of the expedition to the mountains and envoy of Jose de San Martin at Plaza de Armas on November 1st, 1820. The decisive historical moment finally came at the Battle of Ayacucho, although it was followed by some minor uprisings of lesser importance.
From the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th, the history of the area was marked by the war with Chile and the changes and crises that occurred following the shift from English to American imperialism, with whom there existed strong commercial relations.
At the beginning of the 20th century the population began to express a new desire for progress and modernization, even though the city maintained its feudal image. At that time, economic activity was limited to the cattle trade, purchase and sale of land, handicrafts and small shops.
On occasion of the centenary of the Battle of Ayacucho, the city benefitted from the improvements made as a result of different projects that served to promote real modernization, for example with the installation of home water supply networks. Although change was slow, the development of important intellectual activity helped boost an important feeling of connection with regional identity, which in turn led to the creation of educational and cultural institutions and building works as signs of development, led by the University of San Cristobal of Huamanga, which opened again in the decade of the 1950’s.
In the 1980’s, Ayacucho went through a period of stagnation due to the terrorist attacks of the organization “Shining Path” (Sendero Luminoso).
Nowadays, Ayacucho is a dynamic city which attracts population from other parts of Peru. Its major economic activity corresponds to the extractive sector, mainly mining and farming (which represents 60% of GDP), with a developing cultural and arts and crafts sector based on a long standing tradition.
At present the area faces two major challenges that will favor full economic development, namely enhancing its elements of attraction to make it a benchmark tourist destination for national and international visitors alike, and fomenting its agriculture based on top quality organic products.