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The San Marcos Mansion Museum


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Get to know the mansion of San Marcos in Lima (the oldest University in America, the UNMSM)

Translated by Kate Norman — 6 months ago

Original text by Jesus en su tinta

Hello everyone!

I hope that you are well, today I would like to talk to you about a museum that can be found in the centre of Lima who's name comes from my University (San Marcos).

This place is the Culture Centre of the National University of San Marcos, better known as the "Mansion of San Marcos" which can be found in the centre of Lima in the University Park. In 2006 (Wow, it has been 10 years... ), I started my first pre-professional training in Tourism as a tour guide for people who arrived to this part of the city.

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Why should I visit this museum?

Inside this museum you can discover the entire history of the oldest University in America. You will see an example of perfect restoration that has been done on this mansion that was on the brink of being destroyed - it could never have been allowed!

If you are from San Marcos (a San Marquino), this is actually like an obligatory step for the Freshers (the new alumni) as here they explain the history of the University and how its location has been changed with history, as well as seeing the courtyards that belong to all the different faculties such as Linguistics, Law, Sciences, and many more things to see.

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The National University of San Marcos was founded on the 12th of May in 1551 when Lima was part of Colonial Spain. As the city was important during the Viceroyal times, the people in power from different parts of the continent studied here and now the University has a long list of students who stand out from all different areas of Peruvian history and from the region.

Let me tell you a bit of history:

The mansion is not in the original location where the University was found as truthfully, this was founded in the Convent of Santo Domingo (in the square of the Plaza de Armas), inside their chapter-hall. This convent is known for having the three Peruvian Saints: Santa Rosa de Lima, San Martín de Porres and San Juan Masias.

After being in Santo Domingo, the University was passed to the San Marcelo Church (which also remains in the centre of Lima and is not a museum) and then, after this, it was again passed to what is now known as the Republic Congress of Peru. This occurred when Don Jose de San Martín, who was part of the Independence, created the Congress inside one of the University facilities and over the years the two entities could not live together and it became unstable. Because of this instability, the University was finally passed to the San Marcos Mansion located in what is now known as the University Park in the centre of Lima.

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Something that is very surprising about the mansion is that its origins come from a Jesuit Order novitiate house that, after the 18th century, were expelled from the colony and because it was vacant, the University of San Marcos occupied the territory that was previously the Convictorial College of San Carlos.

What was the novitiate house?

The novitiate house was a place where they prepared the boys to be able to be priests, they were religious cloisters and used to be a lot bigger back then, with an orchard included, but with the passing of time the mansion has been reduced to what we know it to be today.

How does the mansion make you feel?

When you enter into the Mansion of San Marcos, you forget the noise of the traffic despite being in a bustling area like the Abancay Avenue. When you enter you feel as if you have been transported into the past. It has different courtyards that have been restored thanks to the AECI (Spanish Association for International Cooperation) as, during the '80s, the mansion was collapsing due to San Marcos being moved to what is now known as the University City.

Thanks to the University management, the mansion went through a renovation period which in turn, placed more of a tourist value on the building and a focus on the cultural centre of Lima.

On entry, they guide you first to the Law courtyard which is the oldest in the mansion where you can find a marble fountain and very tall palm trees that are also very old. It is said that during the epoch of the students, debates usually finished with a water-fight (I mean, they push people in the pool to soak them).

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After this, you go through the Linguistics courtyard, better known as the "Oranges" courtyard (due to the fact that when it was the Jesuit novitiate house, those in the order planted orange trees here). Here there is actually the Art and History museum of the San Marcos University, so if you would like to know more about the history you can enter into this museum inside this mansion.

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The Linguistics courtyard will tell you about the history of different Peruvian authors that have passed through this University as students, others as professors, and some merely as curious individuals. For example, the poet Cesar Vallejo, José Carlos Mariategui and Mario Vargas Llosa who won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Graduate Room:

Finishing up in the previous courtyard, the tour-guide will then take you through into a beautiful room that is called the "Graduate Room". This room is a very important location for all of the official activities that the University undergoes, like for example awarding an Honorary Degree to an intellectual, or a visit to Peru from an Ambassador.

Here I am going to show you a picture of the "Graduate Room", if you look at the ceiling you will be able to see religious paintings that date back to the times of the Jesuit Order and the novitiate house that was restored:

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The part that catches your eye the most is the part of the ceiling where you can see the different theologians and the Virgin Mary (there is a phrase in Latin that makes a reference to the Jesuit Order). At the back you will be able to see a white lecture chair from the Colonial era.

Here I am during my time as a tour guide in one of the courtyards in the mansion:

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The General Room

After taking a small pause, the tour guide will lead you in to look at a courtyard known as the Jasmine Courtyard (I imagine, due to the name, that there used to be jasmine here) and right here you can find the main door to the second most important room in my gorgeous University, called the "General Room".

Here you can appreciate photos of what the mansion used to be like and they will leave you open-mouthed - you will no be able to believe that this place was on the brink of collapse, even in the 19th century it was used as a stable by the Chilean troops. My city was occupied by Chile for three long years, along with the University too, so this beautiful room was destroyed and continually left messy (thankfully, today history has changed).

Here there is a photo below of the page in the museum so you can see the General Room:

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This room is made of wood and it looks like a mini-Parliament room as you can see tables in the centre of the room at the front. This is where young people enter and are given a oral exam in order to enter the University. As well as being a centre for San Marquino debate, too.

A cultural centre in constant movement:

After passing through the General Room, you will go towards another courtyard, this time made of a purple colour. It is called the "Boys Courtyard" due to the fact that it used to be the area where the bedrooms in the novitiate house were. Today it functions as culture studio for things like dance, music, and art that the University offers to both its students and the general public (it is not expensive, so if you actually like to act, dance or play an instrument, you can ask for information here and maybe join a course).

Just after this courtyard you will find a part of an entrance into the Jesuit Order's orchard where now there is a small restaurant and where, if you would like to, you can stay to eat a snack or have something to drink.

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There is another courtyard that I have forgotten to mention which is the Science Courtyard, it is the second oldest courtyard of the mansion and it is on the left hand side of the Law courtyard.

This courtyard is mainly made up of the colours green and orange, so you can take some photos everywhere and the whole trip through the mansion will not take more than one hour with a tour guide (10 years ago, your tour guide would've been me).

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San Marcos is considered as one of the best National Universities in Peru, it is quite difficult to get into, in my case I managed to get in recently on my fourth try. It is worth it though, as here I have met so many of my friends that I am still in contact with today.

In this photo I am with the model, when I was a tour guide of the mansion :)

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My memories of the mansion:

During my time as a tour guide of the San Marcos Mansion, I was able to meet Gaston Acurio, one of the most famous chefs in the whole of Peru, as well as the famous folklore singer Silvio Rodriguez de Cuba. I remember fondly my first tour that I gave, it was on the 18th of January (the anniversary of Lima) and it was a tour for a man with his niece. We walked throughout the mansion and what filled my heart with joy was when he told me that he had studied here before it had become such a large campus where I studied.

To this day I still feel so happy to have been able to share with other San Marquino's the same passion that I feel towards my University.

Here in this image I am with Gastón Acurio (chef of the Peruvian Restaurant Astrid & Gastón) when he did his cooking programme at the mansion.

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To conclude, the best way to arrive here is to take the Metropolitan line and get off at the station called "Colmena" which is really close to the University Park.

Do you want to become a tour guide?

The mansion gives you a certificate for having been a tour guide for three months and it is a great opportunity to get to know the history of the oldest University in America.

It will be a unique experience, and you wouldn't regret it! I encourage you to visit here when you pass through Lima - "The King's City".

I hope that you have liked this little trip through the mansion of San Marcos in Lima with me.

See you in the next one!

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