For at least 300 years before the arrival of the first Europeans (Spaniards), most of the Peru (excluding the eastern lowlands) was the heart of the Inca empire that extended from present-day Ecuador to central Chile. The area from wich the empire developed was centered in the basins and valleys of Cuzco. The Incas conquered the Andean people and fostered among the most advanced of ancient American civilizations.
The incas themselves developed a civilization and administration that in many respects was of a high order, although different in basic concepts from the civilizations that prevailed in the Old World.
The Inca Empire ended with the conquest of its heartland and Capital Cuzco (1531-1533) by the Spaniards under Francisco Pizarro. Lima was founded in 1535 and became the focal point of Spanish expansion and domination of western South America. It soon became the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru, which until the mid-eighteenth century, extended from the Caribbean to La Plata (Argentina). During the seventeenth century Peru was the second most important producer of silver (for 20 years it was the largest producer). Indians who attempt to rebel or to evade exploitation and forced labor were executed. The establishment of the viceroyalties of New Granada (1739) in the north and La Plata (1776) in the south greatly reduced the extent and power of the colonial administration centered in Lima. Peru declared its independence in 1821, following an uprising by local European (Creole) inhabitants against the Spanish colonial rule, which came to an end only in late 1824. A long period of instability followed, during which the country was governed by a sucession of generals. A short confederation with Bolivia (1836-1839) was broken by rebellion.
Peru went to war with Spain (1864-1871); during the fighting Callao (Lima’s main port) was damaged by heavy bombardment from the sea. In 1879 Peru, together with Bolivia, fought a four-year war with Chile over posession of the nitrate-rich northern part of the Atacama desert. The defeat of the Peruavian army led to the occupation of Lima by the Chilean army and to loss of territory. The border dispute with Chile was settled only in 1929.
In the late nineteenth century, construction of railway connecting the mining centers of the highlands with the coast, coupled with large foreign capital investments, brought extensive development to Peru. With economic development came a power struggle between the conservative Creole upper class and the liberal elements pressing for social and economic changes. During the first half of the twentieth century, Peru had eighteen presidents (five were deposed and four resigned), many of whom assumed dictatorial powers. A boundary dispute with Colombia was settled in 1932 by the withdrawal of Peru from a large area in the Amazon plain. A boundary dispute with Ecuador was settled after a short war in favor of Peru (1942), but the dispute was revived in 1981.
A liberal president (Fernando Belaunde), elected in 1963, introduced reforms to improve the social and economic conditions of peasants and workers; these brought about some fundamental changes in the position of the masses. The main reforms, however, were instituted by the head of a junta, General Juan Velasco, who deposed Belaunde in 1968. Alvarado initiated a far-reaching program of agrarian reform and nationalized the major mining companies, industries, railways, banks, and other vital public
services. He was deposed after seven years in power by a member of the same junta, General Francisco Bermudez, who restored free democratic elections in 1980. Since then, three presidents have been elected and finished their five-years terms of goverment