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August 2007

Peru is the third largest country in South America, 1.28 million sq. km. (496,225 sq. mi.), making it slightly smaller than Alaska. The country is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west; other borders are with Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, and Chile. Peru shares control of Lago Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake, with Bolivia. Located in the Andes mountain range of Peru, a remote slope of Nevado Mismi (5,316 m), is the ultimate source of the Amazon River. A constitutional republic, Peru declared its independence July 28, 1821. The official languages are Spanish and Quechua: a large number of minor Amazonian languages are also spoken. Most Peruvians are Roman Catholic (81%).

During pre-Columbian times, Peru was one of the major centers of artistic expression in America, where pre-Incan cultures, such as Chavin, Paracas, Wari, Nazca, Chimu, and Tiahuanaco developed high-quality pottery, textiles, jewelry, and sculpture. Drawing upon earlier cultures, the Incans continued to maintain these crafts but made even more impressive achievements in architecture. The mountain town of Machu Picchu and the buildings at Cuzco are excellent examples of Incan architectural design.

When the Spanish landed in 1531, Peru's territory was the nucleus of the highly developed Inca civilization. Centered at Cuzco, the Inca Empire extended over a vast region from northern Ecuador to central Chile. In search of Inca wealth, the Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro, who arrived in the territory after the Incas had fought a debilitating civil war, conquered the weakened people. The Spanish had captured the Incan capital at Cuzco by 1533 and consolidated their control by 1542. Gold and silver from the Andes enriched the conquerors, and Peru became the principal source of Spanish wealth and power in South America.

Peru has a varied geography - an arid coastal region, the Andes further inland, and tropical lands bordering Colombia and Brazil. These differing areas include several types of natural disasters, including tsunamis, flooding, landslides, mild volcanic activity and earthquakes. The United States Geological Survey has more information on Peruvian earthquakes at their Earthquake Hazards Program website.

CIA World Factbook, U.S. State Department Background Notes, 7/2007