Peru is best known as the heart of the Inca empire, but it was home to many diverse indigenous cultures long before the Incas arrived. Although there is evidence of human habitation in Peru as far back as 8000 BC, there is little proof of organized village life until about 2500 BC. It was about this time that climatic changes in the coastal regions prompted Perus early inhabitants to move toward the more fertile interior river valleys. For the next 1500 years, Peruvian civilization developed into a number of distinct cultures. For example, the Chavín are best known for their religious iconography, which included striking figurative depictions of various animals (the jaguar in particular) and which exercised considerable influence over the entire coastal region.The Sechín are remembered more for their military strength than for their cultural achievement.
The decline of these two cultures around 500 BC gave rise to a number of distinctive regional cultures. Some of these, including the Chancay and Paracas, are celebrated for artistic and technological advances such as kiln-fired ceramics and sophisticated weaving techniques. From the Paracas arose the Nazca culture, whose legacy includes the immense Nazca Lines. 15th century AD gave rise to the mightiest culture of them all, the Inca.
By 1500 AD the empire of the Incas stretched from the Pacific Ocean east to the sources of the Paraguay and Amazon rivers and from the region of modern Quito in Ecuador south to the Maule River in Chile.
This vast empire was a theocracy, organized along socialistic lines and ruled by an Inca, or emperor, who was worshiped as a divinity. Because the Inca realm contained extensive deposits of gold and silver, it became a natural target of Spanish imperial ambitions in the New World.
In 1532 the Spanish soldier and adventurer Francisco Pizarro landed in Peru with a force of about 180 men. In an astonishingly short period of time, the entire Inca empire fell to the Spaniards. Pizarro founded the city of Lima in 1535. In 1780 a force of 60,000 Indians revolted against Spanish rule under the leadership of the Peruvian patriot José Gabriel Condorcanqui, who adopted the name Inca Tupac Amaru. Although initially successful, the uprising was crushed in 1781, and Condorcanqui was tortured and executed, as were thousands of his fellow revolutionaries. Another revolt was similarly put down in 1814.
Freedom from Spanish rule, however, was imposed on Peru by outsiders. The Argentine soldier José de San Martín, who had defeated the Spanish forces in Chile, landed an invasion army at the seaport of Pisco. On July 12, 1821, San Martín's forces entered Lima, which had been abandoned by Spanish troops. Peruvian independence was proclaimed formally on July 28, 1821. The struggle against the Spanish was continued later by the Venezuelan revolutionary hero Simón Bolívar, who entered Peru with his armies in 1822. In the battles of Junín on August 6, 1824, and Ayacucho on December 9, 1824, Bolívar's forces routed the Spanish and secured Perus independence once and for all.
The latter part of the 19th century saw two wars; a brief one with Spain in 1866 which Peru won and the other against Chile from 1879 to 1883 which Peru, allied with Bolivia, lost.
Peru and Bolivia went to war with Chile in 1879 until 1883. The War of the Pacific, as it is known, developed over the disputed, nitrate-rich Atacama Desert. Neither Peru, nor Bolivia had been able to solidify its territorial claims in the desert, which left the rising power of Chile to assert its designs over the region. Chile chose to attack Bolivia after Bolivia broke the Treaty of 1866 between the two countries by raising taxes on the export of nitrates from the region mainly controlled by Chilean companies. In response, Bolivia invoked its secret alliance with Peru, the Treaty of 1873, to go to war. Peru was obligated, then, to enter a war for which it was woefully unprepared. The Treaty of Ancón in 1883 ceded to Chile in perpetuity the nitrate-rich province of Tarapacá and provided that the Peruvian provinces of Tacna and Arica would remain in Chilean possession. In 1929 both countries agreed to a compromise brokered by the US; Tacna would be returned to Peru and Chile would retain Arica.
In 1941, Peru went to war with Ecuador over a border dispute. The following year, in Rio de Janeiro, a treaty was written giving Peru the vast majority of the disputed territory. Ecuador disapproved of the resolution, and as a result, the two countries engaged in "military actions" every few years. It all came to a head in January of 1995 when both nations were on the brink of a declared war. Fortunately, in 1998, an official peace accord was accepted by both Peru and Ecuador ending over 50 years of tension.
In May of 1970, an earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter Scale devastated north central Peru, killing a total of 80,000 people. This is considered the worst natural disaster the western hemisphere has ever seen.
On May 17th, 1980, five members of the Communist Party of Peru-Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) burned ballot boxes in the Ayacucho village of Chuschi. This was the first act of a revolutionary group who years later would come dangerously close to overthrowing the government and turning Peru into Marxist state. As the 80s progressed, so did armed conflict between the rebels and the military. By the time SL leader Abimael Guzman was captured on September 12, 1992, almost 30,000 people had died.
In the 1990 presidential election, Alberto Fujimori, an agricultural economist of Japanese descent, defeated Mario Vargas Llosa, in what was considered a major upset. In April 1992, Fujimori, alleging that congress and the judiciary had blocked his efforts to suppress the drug trade and Sendero Luminoso, as well as being extremely corrupt, suspended the constitution, dissolved congress, imposed censorship, and had opposition politicians arrested. Fujimori won the presidential election again in 1995, defeating formal Secretary General of the United Nations, Javier Perez de Cuellar.
In December 1996, another guerrilla group called the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) captured the residency of the Japanese ambassador in Lima and kept 71 hostages from December of 1996 to April of 1997 when Peruvian commandos stormed the residency, killing all 14 terrorists in the process.
In July 2000, Fujimori once again won the presidency, although the opposition along with a large part of the international community disputed the results. The public release of a video in which his right hand Mr. Vladimiro Montesinos was shown bribing a congressman from the opposition to change position, caused Fujimori to resign in September of 2000. Peru will hold new elections in April of 2001. Until the new head of state is voted in, former congressman Valentín Paniagua is serving as interim President.