One hundred ten years ago, a group of Italian priests, followers of St. John Bosco, decided to settle in the city of Cuzco and develop here the Salesian mission with which the great Don Bosco had charged them in Europe.
They arrived in Cuzco in 1095 and were careful to document their steps as they began to build the Salesians of Cuzco. They registered their daily life and the transformations of a city in development, all through the lens of a camera.
Today we have more than a thousand photographs which compose the Salesian Fototeca (Photo-library) in Cuzco. We wished to share these with the city of Cuzco since they show the beginning of the Salesians of Cuzco as well as the historical context in which the city’s development was slow.
In the photos you can see how the Salesians worked the forest in which they located their first oratory and what was then called the School of Arts and Offices (Escuela de Artes y Oficios). Here the priests gathered children and youths of few economic resources who lived nearby. Besides giving them room and board they educated them. The children learned to read and write. They also learned arts of music and drawing as well as the offices of carpentry, metal work, and agriculture.
The Salesians created a work worthy of praise and the photos are explicit about this. They show the children in 1915, 1920, and more. You see them with their finished work, such as cots, washbowls, tripods, as well as all the other metal tools required at that time.
However the photos show more. Through them we can be witnesses of how Cuzco was as a small city. There were not as many buildings and businesses as we see today. Instead, there were the old houses in the midst of green spaces that evoked a welcoming place.
Thanks to the lens of these first priests we enjoy the performance of the first musical band of the Salesian College with their old brass instruments and no less attractive uniforms. We also see the first boy scouts being blessed by the Archbishop of Cuzco around 1923.
We cannot fail to mention that Suecia Street is seen undergoing cobbling. We witness the students and Salesian priests, along with municipal employees, working to pave the street with stones. They are building this enchanting city of Cuzco.
Few will remember the visit of King and Queen of Spain in 1978 when they returned the ashes of the Inca Gracilaso de la Vega to our city. They came to our school and shared with the children and youths a variety of experiences that the photographs document.
How could we not mention the photograph of the first astronomic observatory found in Cuzco. It was located on the site of the Salesian School and served for the performance of innovative studies as well as for teaching the children.
We should also signal the photograph of a parade on the National Day in Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas. We see the students march in front of the Cathedral’s atrium just as we do today. Nevertheless, the beauty of the photo comes from seeing the Plaza de Armas as it was before the devastating earthquake of 1950. It led to massive changes in the architectural structure of the city. As a result much of what you see in the photograph is distinct form what we see today. For example, we no longer have the Portal de Carrizos.
Unfortunately the photos on display are anonymous. We have no record of who their photographer was. We only know he must have been very good. Everyone can see the quality and what they say about the vestiges of the institutions that forged the history of our city.
These photos are on display as “Don Bosco, 200 Years of Passion for Youth” on the second floor of Cuzco’s municipality where they are open to the public. The Salesian School of Cuzco offers these to the public as part of the celebration of the bicentennial of the birth of our Father and Master St. John Bosco, as well as of the Juventud Don Bosco movement.