This year we can observe the 150th anniversary of Antonio Raimondi’s arrival in Huaraz and the beginning of many important discoveries the he made in this region of Peru.
Antonio Raimondi Dell’Acqua (1826-1890) was the premier naturalist in Peru in the second half of the 19th century. Born in Milan, Italy, he came to Peru in 1850 after a tumultuous participation in the struggle for unification in his home country. From an early age, he had cultivated an interest in various aspects of the natural world, including geology, botany and zoology. Once settled permanently in Peru, he began a life-long study of the country, supported partly by the national government because of the economic importance of his mineralogical investigations. In 1851, he started an 19-year odyssey of travel and observation throughout most of Peru, providing the raw material for his extensive publications.
It was in 1860 that he first arrived in Huaraz, stayed for a few weeks and started a pioneering archaeological study of the many prehispanic stone sculptures that had been incorporated into the outer walls of the Old Cemetery, built between 1847 and 1852. Many of these sculptures can still be seen in the Archaeological Museum “Augusto Soriano Infante” in Huaraz, particularly in the sculpture garden behind the museum building. They are mainly statues and horizontal slabs pertaining to the Recuay culture, which developed centuries after the decline of the Chavín culture and flourished throughout most of the department of Ancash between 200 and 700 A.D. In addition, during his first visit to the site of Chavín in the Conchucos in November, 1860, Raimondi studied the now-famous “Lanzón” or Great Image and also the large, rectangular stela that now bears his name, the Raimondi Stela, which can still be seen in Lima in the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and Peruvian History, but which one day must return to Chavín.
Another of his discoveries was the spectacular bromeliad commonly known as the “Puya Raimondi” (Puya raimondii Harms, formerly Pourretia gigantea Raimondi). This enormous plant can still be seen in Ancash in several small rodales or “forests” near Carpa, on the way to the remnant nevado of Pasto Ruri; near Cajamarquilla, in the Cordillera Negra west of Huaraz; and at Winchus, above Pueblo Libre in the Cordillera Negra opposite Caraz. It grows at altitudes of 3200 to 4800 meters for several decades, forming an impressive ball of thorny leaves up to 3 or 4 meters in diameter before finally erupting into the largest inflorescence in the entire plant kingdom, reaching a total height of up to 12 meters, with secondary flower stalks containing around 8000 whitish flowers and 6 million seeds per plant.
One of his most important books was El departamento de Ancachs [sic] y sus riquezas minerales (1873), written at the request of the illustrious American railroad builder, Henry Meiggs, the “Yankee Pizarro”, around 1870 to help justify the construction of a railroad from Chimbote on the coast of Ancash to Recuay in the Callejón de Huaylas. However, the railway was only completed as far as Huallanca in the Cañón de Pato by 1924 and was definitively destroyed by the catastrophic avalanche and flood resulting from the severe 7.8 Richter scale earthquake of May 31st, 1970, that shook loose an enormous mass of ice from near the top of the North Peak (“Cumbre Aña Peck”) of Mount Huascarán, which buried the city of Yungay and the majority of its 25,000 inhabitants.
Romantically speaking, one of Raimondi’s special discoveries in Huaraz was Miss Adela Loli Castañeda. They met in 1867 while Raimondi was convalescing from a painful verruga lesion on his leg and Adela assisted in his care. They maintained an active correspondence until 1869, when they married in Huaraz and moved to Lima, where their three children (Enrique, María and Elvira) were born. Though their children lived to adulthood and Enrique married, they never had offspring, so there are no direct descendants of Raimondi alive today.
Assembling the extensive notes he compiled during his travels, Raimondi published several volumes of his magnum opus, El Perú, before his death in 1890 at the age of 64 in San Pedro de Lloc, capital of Pacasmayo province, La Libertad. His mortal remains were transported by ship to Lima and buried in the monumental “Presbítero Maestro” Cemetery. Though his widow tried valiantly to obtain some governmental stipend in recognition of the great contributions her husband had made to the scientific understanding of the country, her efforts were poorly rewarded.
by: Arqlo Steven Wegner.