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Peru: Fortaleza Real Felipe

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Fortaleza Real Felipe | Peru | Americas

[Visited: April 2010]

A very friendly and young cab driver took us the long way from San Isidro to Callao. We could not fail to notice the difference of atmosphere in the streets of the port city. When we reached a small square, the building on the other side did not strike as very impressive, if only because it appeared to be lower than most buildings of Callao. But when we disembarked, the massive walls looked unconquerable all the same. I invited the driver to join us, and we explored the outside of the pentagonal Fortaleza Real Felipe first - its turrets, the corners of its walls, and the main entrance gate - before we actually entered. The gate is guarded by Peruvian soldiers dressed up in handsome red-and-blue uniforms and hats, with white gloves. They timidly pointed us the right way - once inside, a vast space opened up before our eyes.

Picture of Fortaleza Real Felipe (Peru): Looking up defensive tower of the Fortaleza Real Felipe

Since the Fortaleza Real Felipe is used as a military base now, it is not possible to walk around freely: it is more than just a historical building. We waited for the next tour to start near the Alameda de los cañones, saw a video about the history which was not void of the nationalistic tone you would expect from any army, when a small female soldier took charge. Her voice was surprisingly loud and capable even of informing our big group which consisted mostly of school kids, and she would later confess to me when I made a remark about it, that her voice had been trained well by the army. She led us around the complex in clockwise direction and with military discipline, showing us the Parque de Artillería which has a collection of cannons used by the Peruvian army, the Oploteca which is a small army museum, to the Casa del Gobernador where the governor used to live, but which now has been turned into a museum of the military history of Peru.

Picture of Fortaleza Real Felipe (Peru): Lower floor of the Torreón del Rey

One of the curious artifacts on display is the very first Peruvian flag (different from the one currently in use) used after Peruvian independence from Spain. There are more objects on display from the time when Ramón Rodil, the last Spanish commander, resisted inevitable Peruvian independence in 1824 in this same fortress. As we continued walking, we saw troops training on the inner field of the Fortaleza Real Felipe. Nearby, we saw the faceless statue of the unknown soldier and the Casa de la Respuesta, a replica of the house in Arica in which Colonel Bolognesi declared that his troops would fight the Chileans until the end - which would lead to a defeat of the Peruvians. The last point of interest on our tour was the Torreón del Rey, one of the massive defensive towers in a corner of the Fortaleza Real Felipe. It was here that Peruvians were taken prisoner under barbaric circumstances - and it was here that we realized once again that, while nowadays the entire building is full of Peruvian pride and nationalism, it was originally constructed by the Spanish conquerors in 1774 and named after their former king Felipe V. When you stand on top of the tower of the Torreón del Rey, it is easy to see why they wanted it here: it is close to the sea and the port of Callao, which was of course extensively used to send gold towards the mother country in Europe. Its location is definitely strategic, and it was effectively used against the Spanish themselves in 1866 in their effort to reconquer their former colonies.

Picture of Fortaleza Real Felipe (Peru): Guards at the entrance of the Fortaleza Real Felipe
Picture of Fortaleza Real Felipe (Peru): Towers at the entrance of the Fortaleza Real Felipe
Picture of Fortaleza Real Felipe (Peru): Cannons used by the Peruvian army displayed in the Artillery Park
Picture of Fortaleza Real Felipe (Peru): Interior wall of the Fortaleza Real Felipe
Picture of Fortaleza Real Felipe (Peru): Tower of the Fortaleza Real Felipe
Picture of Fortaleza Real Felipe (Peru): Casa del Gobernador, which now houses a museum
Picture of Fortaleza Real Felipe (Peru): Faceless statue of the Unknown Soldier in the Fortaleza Real Felipe
Picture of Fortaleza Real Felipe (Peru): Weaponry on display in the oploteca of the Fortaleza Real Felipe
Picture of Fortaleza Real Felipe (Peru): The original Peruvian flag that was hoisted after independence
Picture of Fortaleza Real Felipe (Peru): Bustes of Peruvian military heroes in the museum of the Fortaleza Real Felipe
Picture of Fortaleza Real Felipe (Peru): One of the fortified towers defending the fortress: the Torreón del Rey
Picture of Fortaleza Real Felipe (Peru): In this Casa de la Respuesta, Colonel Bolognesi told the Chileans they would fight, not surrender
Picture of Fortaleza Real Felipe (Peru): View from the Fortaleza Real Felipe towards the west

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