One of Cuzco’s most popular plazas and one with much culture and tradition is the Plaza San Francisco, some three blocks from the Plaza de Armas. It attracts many tourists and locals with its tranquility and its colonial architecture, making it one of Cuzco’s gems. There you can enjoy a break watching the fountain, reading, or simply watching half the city pass by. You can also enjoy the snacks offered by vendors, or sit and read the newspaper while getting your shoes shined.
In the time of the Incas, this plaza formed part of the extensive terraces dedicated to the most important crops of Tawantinsuyo, the Inca name for their empire, such as corn and potatoes. With the arrival of the Spanish it became a stage for exchanges and sales. A market appeared each Saturday. In traditional fashion one could see people selling breads, ceramics, or exchanging goods from the jungle or coast. Later, this market was transferred a couple of blocks away to the site of the San Pedro market, where it remains as a permanent presence in Cuzco. In the nineties, the municipality made the plaza a kind of botanical garden to grow and display the Andean flora that is most representative of this region, such as kantu and queñua among others.
An imposing church stands on the edge of the plaza and gives it its name. This is the church of St. Francis (San Francisco) constructed by the Franciscan order in the sixteenth century. It is said that one of the first sites the Franciscans had in mind for their church was where the Cathedral is now. Later they moved to the Qasana palace, also on the main square, the palace of the panaca (descent group) of the Inca Pachacutec. Today that palace is the area of the Portal de Panes. Nevertheless, the space of Qasana seemed quite small and so they took the site of the terraces by today’s plaza.
Together with the church the plaza of San Francisco has become a charming and attractive place where many people spend hours enjoying the agreeable ambience and breathing the fresh air that emanates from Cuzco’s native flowers and trees.
Around the plaza can also be found restaurants, ice cream shops, juice bars, handicraft markets, and roast chicken joints. These are not the up-scale tourist restaurants of the plaza or San Blas. Instead they are were tourists and cuzqueños meet to share the same restaurants.
Because of these businesses, the plaza is one of the most visited in Cuzco. It sees a lot of movement, as well, because of its central location, halfway between the Plaza de Armas and the San Pedro Market. We can say that this is one of the most important squares in the city, since it holds many events, from street theater to formal gatherings, as well as meetings and gastronomic fairs all throughout th year on special days. For example the Festival of the Bread Baby (pan wawa) is held here as is that of the Chiriuchu, Puchero (stew), Lechón (roast pig), and others.
Every weekend we find games, shows of travelling commedians. These draw large crowds of people who work during the week and come to have a good time laughing. At the same time they enjoy the dishes available there on weekends. One can always find there anticuchos (skewered meat), papa rellena (stuffed potato), and the emolientes (hot herb drinks). If people wish, they can also visit the roast chicken shops which always draw crowds; the people of Cuzco are fans of pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken over coals).
There is no doubt that the beautiful city of Cuzco claims many splendid places such as the Plaza San Francisco where one can sit and think, rest, or just have a good time. These places offer us not just a good time and good experiences but always give us something new to learn.