Inside the cathedral (7 a.m.–noon and 4–7 p.m. daily, free) is a gold-covered altar and paintings by Ignacio Merino (1817–1876), one of Peru’s leading painters, who was born in Piura but spent most of his life in France. One of the cathedral’s more venerated images is a replica of baby Jesus (usually buried under teddy bears).
The original Jesus figure was made in Spain by a Carmelite nun who prayed nightly to see baby Jesus. One night, during her dreams, her wish was fulfilled. She awoke, molded the statue, and died shortly afterwards. The image, however, continued on, making its way to Czechoslovakia, when a Spanish princess married the prince of Prague. Over time, the image has become renowned for producing miracles.
The relaxing Plaza de Armas is ringed with tamarind trees and reigned over by a marble liberty statue given to the city in 1870 by then-president José Balta. A half block from the Plaza de Armas is the home of Admiral Miguel Grau (Tacna 662, erratic daytime hours, free), Peru’s foremast naval hero. Grau’s brilliant military maneuverings during Peru’s disastrous War of the Pacific (1879–1883) continues to be a source of consolation for Peruvians.
Follow Tacna past the cathedral on your right before coming to Grau, the city’s main commercial street. Farther north along Tacna—and the parallel streets of Arequipa, Libertad, and Lima—there are narrow streets with colonial buildings made of cane and adobe and fringed with fine woodworking.
Where Tacna hits Sánchez Cerro, you will find the 18th-century Iglesia de Carmen, which now houses the National Institute of Culture. In conjunction with the institute, there are museums of Puirian art, religious art, and industrial machines (9 a.m.–1 p.m. Mon.–Fri., US$0.75). The religious museum has a golden baroque altar and Cusco School–style paintings, but its pulpit was robbed of its carved angels and four evangelists. In the 1980s, crimes like this closed down the neighboring Benedictine convent.
Other lesser sites in Piura include Iglesia San Francisco, near Lima and Ica, where Piurans announced their independence from Spain in 1821; and the Museo Municipal (Huánuco and Sullana), with a variety of ceramics and gold objects from the Vicus culture, which thrived nearly 2,000 years ago on Cerro Vicus, 27 kilometers east of Piura. Objects found on Vicus, and now on display at the museum, include a gold feline head with sharp teeth and extended tongue.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition