LIMA – Canals built 2,000 years ago by the people who gave this city its name continue to serve Lima, a metropolis of nearly 10 million people that is the world’s second-largest desert city after Cairo.
The legacy of the canals, originated by the Lima culture and later extended by the Wari, the Ichma and the Incas, makes possible today the existence of parks and other green spaces in the Peruvian capital, researcher and journalist Javier Lizarzaburu told EFE.
Surco, the largest canal, winds 29.5 kilometers (18.3 miles) through 12 of Lima’s 43 districts.
Lizarzaburu describes the canals as a prime example of the skillful use of pre-Columbian engineering skills for the equitable distribution of the water from Lima’s three great rivers: the Chillon, Rimac and Lurin.
The builders needed a comprehensive grasp of topography and accurate calculations to ensure that the channels dug into the mountainside did not overflow and cause floods.
“Building an irrigation system implies knowledge, it is not just opening a channel for the river to cross part of the desert,” Lizarzaburu said.
The earliest written records of the canals date from circa 1535, when Spanish chroniclers referred to “a large number of rivers in the Lima valley” that were, in fact, the ancient man-made canals, Lizarzaburu said.
The network evolved with Lima, he said, calling the canals “live systems that change not only with the rise of the river rise but with the growth of the city.”
Following the route of the Surco canal, EFE spotted secondary channels that have been covered with roofs, while others have been turned into garbage dumps or sewers.
“Lima inhabitants don’t realize that they live in a desert, that they should be thankful for those who lived in the area some 2,000 years ago and began building a system of canals allowing this city to survive,” the researcher said.
That lack of awareness has prompted Lizarzaburu to make the canals an official part of Peru’s cultural heritage so they can be protected.