Machu Picchu might be Peru’s most famous tourist destination, but the Inca ruins are just one of many cherished historical sites — from the Nazca Lines to Huaca Pucllana — that have survived since ancient times, along with countless precious artifacts. Strangely enough, despite its rich cultural and artistic history, the country hasn’t had a large-scale national museum until now.
Earlier this month, Peruvian Culture Minister Diana Alvarez Calderon announced that construction will soon begin on the Museo Nacional del Perù, according to Agencia de Noticias Andina. In an earlier interview with El Comercio, Alvarez Calderon explained that the plan to finally build one came about in conversation with President Ollanta Humala, who wanted to create an Amazon Museum in Iquitos. “I told him that an Amazonian museum is important, but the great museum of Peru was still missing.”
The new museum will make its home at the storied Pachacamac, an archaeological site southeast of Lima that’s passed through many hands since the Early Intermediate period (200–600 CE), most notably functioning as a religious center for the Ichma people between 1100 and 1400 CE. The museum will serve as an entry point to the ruins and will also presumably increase tourism to the site, as Lima city officials are discussing ways to facilitate the transportation of visitors. Construction will begin as soon as archaeological studies are completed.
Some have dubbed the new building “the mother of all [Peru’s] museums.” Its exhibition space will span 49,000 square feet and house 500,000 artifacts. It will swallow the majority of two existing institutions — the Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History of Free People in Pueblo Libre and the Museum of the Nation in San Borja. Bereft of their pre-Colombian collections, the former may focus instead on the country’s colonial and republican history, while the latter will be used as an exhibition space for contemporary art (though officials say it still doesn’t have adequate lighting and temperature control, since it was built in 1970 as the headquarters of the Ministry of Fisheries). The national museum will also include space for a library, classrooms, and laboratories.
The expansive design by architect Alexia León Angell was selected after an open call that was not without controversy. Initially, it seemed the government was simply planning to select on its own an architecture firm to carry out the work, as it had previously done with a convention center design it awarded to a foreign company. A group of Peruvian architects including Frederick Cooper (dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the Catholic University) and José Enrique Arispe (dean of the College of Architects of Peru) circulated a petition decrying the plan and requesting a public tender. Alvarez Calderon quickly met their demands, though aspects of the Request for Proposals unsettled many. Not only was there no prize or financial compensation for the winning design, but the government stipulated that it didn’t actually have to use the winning design if it chose not to. It also required that applicants have a minimum of 10 years of schooling, sidelining many younger architects.
It’s unclear when the museum will officially open, as reports vary and the government has not responded to requests for comment. The tender for construction was scheduled for January and February of this year, and some have reported that the building will be completed between April and May 2016.