The history of Peru spans 10 millennia, extending back through several stages of cultural development along the country’s desert coastline and in the Andes mountains. Peru’s coast was home to the Norte Chico civilization, the oldest civilization in the Americas and one of the six cradles of civilization in the world. When the Spanish arrived in the sixteenth century, Peru was the homeland of the highland Inca Empire, the largest and most advanced state in pre-Columbian America. After the conquest of the Incas, the Spanish Empire established a Viceroyalty with jurisdiction over most of its South American domains. Peru declared independence from Spain in 1821 but achieved independence only after the Battle of Ayacucho three years later.
Attracted by the empire’s legendary wealth the Spanish arrived in Peru in 1531. They gradually conquered the country and imposed their language and religion on the indigenous population. For the next three centuries, the country was dominated by descendants of the conquistadores, with indigenous groups suffering discrimination and political marginalization.
In the 1960s this model reached a critical point when the exhaustion of a number of resources and growing social unrest led to the military coup of General Juan Velasco Alvarado. After taking power in 1969 General Velasco introduced an aggressive land reform scheme in an unsuccessful attempt to implement a state-led development model. Most foreign companies were nationalized.
Latitude has less effect on the climate of the sierra than altitude. The rainy season in the Andes extends from October to April, the reverse of the coastal climate. Temperatures vary more from day to night than seasonally. The snow line ranges from 4,700 to 5,800 m (15,500 to 19,000 ft.). In the eastern rainforest, precipitation is heavy, from 190 to 320 cm (75 to 125 in) annually; rain falls almost continuously between October and April.
A warm Pacific west-to-east current called El Niño appears near the Peruvian coast every four to ten years around Christmastime (the name is a reference to the Christ child), occasionally causing serious weather disturbances.