Maestro Presbítero Cemetery in Lima
The Maestro Presbíterio cemetery is the oldest cemetery in South America. It was created in 1808 in order to avoid burials in church funds, as was the custom during the colony. There lie the remains of some of the most important characters in the history of Peru such as: Miguel Grau, Andrés Avelino Cáceres, Francisco Bolognesi and more. Along the tombs there are mausoleums that show a peculiar sculptural beauty. Located in the heart of Lima, it is one of the darkest and most historic tourist attractions in the city.
All about the Maestro Presbítero Cemetery
The oldest cemetery in Peru
The Maestro Presbíterio cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Peru and South America. It was built in 1808, during the viceroyalty of Peru. Its name honors the Spanish priest, musician, architect and sculptor Matías Maestro, who was in charge of building the then called ‘General Cemetery of Lima’.
The cemetery has 19 hectares and 776 funeral monuments dating from the 19th and 20th centuries where the remains of some of the most illustrious figures in Peruvian history lie. It also has about 220 thousand niches with the remains of people, the oldest since 1810.
Due to the architectural beauty of its mausoleums adorned with marble, stone and plaster sculptures; the cemetery is compared to ‘a marble forest’ or is even called the ‘Rome of South America’.
To attract visitors, its sinister corridors are organized by sectors such as: the mausoleums of the presidents, the mausoleums of the writers, the mausoleums of the heroes and even the dreaded pavilions of the suicides and the atheists.
Among the most famous people buried there are: Miguel Grau, Ricardo Palma, José Carlos Mariátegui, Francisco Bolognesi, Andrés Avelino Cáceres, Felipe Pinglo Alva, José María Eguren, Alejandro Villanueva, José Sabogal and more.
To generate more visitors, the cemetery organizes dark night tours with a tour guide on some days of the week. The Lima Charity Society is the entity in charge of preserving the place.
Touring the Presbítero Maestro cemetery is a dark cultural adventure through the history of Peru.
The cemetery is located in the heart of the city of Lima. From the historic Main Square de Lima you should continue by car for about 3.2 kilometers approximately.
The cemetery is located in Jirón Ancash, in the Cercado de Lima district.
Map of the place
How to get there
To get to the Presbítero Maestro cemetery from any part of the city of Lima you must follow these steps:
- From any sector of the city of Lima you must take a taxi or public transport to the center of Lima.
- Depending on where you are, you can take the electric train on line 1 (ticket at 1.5 Peruvian soles), the ‘blue corridor’ (ticket at 1.5 Peruvian soles) or the ‘Metropolitano’ line (ticket at 2.5 soles Peruvians).
- In any case, you must finish the trip by taxi. The only safe means of public transport that can leave you at the cemetery gate is the electric train on line 1.
The Maestro Presbíterio cemetery has more than 200 years of history. Its creation dates back to 1808 under the administration of Viceroy José Fernando de Abascal who commissioned the work to the Spanish priest, architect and artist Matías Maestro.
Because the custom during the viceroyalty of Peru was to bury the deceased in the underground galleries of churches (such as the famous catacombs of the Church of San Francisco in Lima); the cemetery was very resisted by the Lima population.
The chosen place was the periphery of Lima at that time, a remote place for health reasons. The first recorded deceased was the niche of Blessed María De la Cruz y De la Luz in 1810.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the main characters of the Lima oligarchy were buried there. To cite some examples, mention should be made of the former president Nicolás de Piérola (1913), the thinker Manuel Gonzáles Prada (1918), the writer Ricardo Palma (1919), the former president Andrés Avelino Cáceres (1923), the former president Augusto Leguía (1930), the poet José Santos Chocano (1934), composer Felipe Pinglo Alva (1936), poet José María Eguren (1942) and more.
In 1923 the ‘General Cemetery of Lima’ changed its name to ‘Presbítero Matías Maestro Cemetery’ in honor of the author of said construction. In 1972 the place became a ‘Historical Monument’. In 1999, due to its historical value, it was named a museum.
One of the most notorious events in the cemetery was the nude of the dancer Norka Rouskaya in 1917. A fact that scandalized Lima society at that time. From the second half of the 20th century, the city grew and the cemetery lost the exclusive character that characterized it for many years.
Throughout its history, mausoleums and sculptural works by important artists such as the Spanish Damia Campeny, the French Louis-Ernest Barrias or the Italian Rinaldo Rinaldi were built in the cemetery. Today, these works represent one of the most famous tourist attractions in Lima.
The Presbítero Maestro museum
The Sociedad de Beneficencia de Lima has organized a thematic museum that explains the great historical value of its crypts, niches and mausoleums. There is an inventory with the main characters whose remains lie there. The entrance to the museum is included in the entrance ticket.
The tour of the cemetery is complemented by a visit to the museum.
The Crypt of the Heroes
The Lima Charity Society has organized a historical tour of the cemetery which they called the ‘Presbítero Maestro museum’.
The tours are thematic and are organized in this way: a) the mausoleums of the heroes of the homeland, b) the mausoleums of former Peruvian presidents, c) the writers’ mausoleums, d) the mausoleums of the scientists and e) the mausoleum of the miracle boy Ricardito.
Of all of them, the most famous space is the ‘Crypt of the heroes’, created in 1908, where are the remains of heroes of Peru who fell during the War of the Pacific, such as: Miguel Grau, Andrés Avelino Cáceres, Francisco Bolognesi, Alfonso Ugarte and the remains of various Peruvians who died in these clashes. In 2018, the remains of Luis Alberto García Rojas, considered a hero of the Cenepa War that faced Peru and Ecuador in 1997, was buried there.
The Crypt of Heroes has an eclectic architecture made by the French Emile Robert. It has a circular shape and a 30 meter high dome. It is divided into two basements and a main floor. It stands out for its beautiful neoclassical decoration and its internal marble cladding.
Historical figures buried in the Presbítero Maestro
Ramón Castilla – Buried in 1867. He was a former Peruvian president who ruled from 1845 to 1851 and from 1855 to 1862. His mausoleum is at door 4 north side of the cemetery.
Antonio Raimondi – Buried in 1890. He was a naturalized Italian naturalized Peruvian geographer and naturalist. He studied the Peruvian flora and fauna. He discovered the ‘Puya de Raimondi’. His mausoleum is at gate 4 east flank.
Augusto B. Leguía – Buried in 1932. He was a former Peruvian president who ruled from 1908 to 1921 and from 1919 to 1930 (the famous oncennium). His mausoleum is at gate 3 west flank.
José Santos Chocano – Buried in 1934. He was a Peruvian poet famous for works such as Alma America, Iras santas and En la pueblo. In his tomb there is an epitaph that indicates in verse that he will be buried standing in a space of one square meter. This is how his remains are. It is located at gate 4 north flank.
Alejandro Villanueva – Buried in 1944. He was a former Peruvian footballer identified as the glory of the Alianza Lima club. His niche is at door 5.
José Sabogal – Buried in 1956. He was a Peruvian painter who promoted the indigenous trend. His most famous works are India del Collao, Quechua India and Creole Tanagra. His niche is at door 5.
Raúl Porras Barrenechea – Buried in 1960. He was one of the most prominent historians and intellectuals in the history of Peru. His face is on the current Peruvian 20 soles banknotes. His niche is at door 3.
Ciro Alegría – Buried in 1967. He was a Peruvian writer who promoted the indigenous trend. His most famous works are The world is wide and foreign and The hungry dogs. His grave is at gate 3 east flank.
The night tours take place from 7pm to 10pm. These are carried out both in tourist areas and in the most sinister areas such as the passage of suicides and atheists. Although it is possible to do the tour without a guide, it is recommended to hire one at the entrance door.
Entrance tickets for the day tour have the following cost:
- Adults: 8 Peruvian soles.
- Children up to 12 years: 2 Peruvian soles.
- Seniors: 3 Peruvian soles.
- University students: 7 Peruvian soles.
The entrance tickets for the night tour have the following cost:
- Adults: 22 Peruvian soles.
- Children up to 12 years old: 11 Peruvian soles.
Hours of operationThe cemetery is open for tourist visits from Monday to Sunday from 9 in the morning until 6 in the afternoon. The night tours run from 7 to 10 at night.
Photos of the Presbítero Maestro Cemetery
If you like historical monuments you can also visit the Church of San Francisco in Lima, in whose galleries lie hundreds of skulls and bones, the famous catacombs. This church is located in the Historic Center of Lima, a few steps from the city’s Main Square.
The tour guide service has a cost of 55 Peruvian soles per group. The permit to take photographs has a cost of 11 Peruvian soles.
One of the most visited monuments in the cemetery is the one that pays tribute to the boy Ricardito. There lie the remains of Ricardito Espiell Barrionuevo who died at the age of six. Some visitors believe that faith in this child grants miracles.
The cemetery is located in an area of Lima with high rates of robbery. For this reason, it is recommended to be accompanied and without objects of great value.