Preservation: Cuzco, Peru
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Preservation: Cuzco, Peru

Cracks mended, foundation strengthened, Cuzco Cathedral is commanding reverence once again

During its 349 years on the Plaza de Armas, Cuzco Cathedral—the acre-square, three-churches-in-one, treasure-filled Baroque marvel built on the site of an Incan palace—has withstood its fair share of earthquakes. But a cupola-cracking 5.3 on the Richter scale in 1986 left parts of the interior exposed to the elements.

After more than a decade of drafty, sometimes soggy services, the archdiocese, corporate donors, and the World Monuments Fund anted up $1.1 million for a crypt-to-ceiling renovation. Resurrection complete, a shinier, leakproof cathedral reopened last year.

A quick fix this was not. The scaffolding went up in 1997; for five years, local workers reinforced the foundation, relaid flooring, rewired lighting, and revived everything gilded—and almost everything inside is gilded. The vaulted ceiling was salvaged. A stone altarpiece replaced a decaying wooden one. Prized 17th-century creations such as the hand-carved choir stalls, the work of a colonial priest, were restored. And a collection of Cusquenean-style paintings, including the city's oldest canvas (a rendering of Cuzco after the 1650 quake) and a renowned Last Supper (the table laden with papayas, chile peppers, and roast guinea pig), were rehung. All are now being kept dry, along with visitors and supplicants alike.

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