Fifteen kilometres west of Belén and even more charming, with its partly crumbling adobe houses and pretty orchards, LONDRES lies 2km off the RN-40 along a winding road that joins its upper and lower towns, on either side of the Río Hondo, a usually dry river that peters out in the Salar de Pipanaco. Known as the Cuna de la Nuez, or Walnut Heartland, the town celebrates the Fiesta de la Nuez with folklore and crafts displays during the first few days of February. Londres de Abajo, the lower town, is centred on Plaza José Eusebio Colombres, where you’ll find the simple, whitewashed eighteenth-century Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, in front of which the walnut festival is held. The focal point for the rest of the year is Londres de Arriba’s Plaza Hipólito Yrigoyen, overlooked by the quaint Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción, a once lovely church in a pitiful state of repair but noteworthy for a harmonious colonnade and its fine bells, said to be the country’s oldest. As yet, there’s no accommodation in the town, but ask around, just in case someone has a room to let.
Londres’ humble present-day aspect belies a long and prestigious history, including the fact that it’s Argentina’s second oldest “city” (ciudad), founded in 1558, only five years after Santiago del Estero. Diego de Almagro and his expedition from Cusco began scouring the area in the 1530s and founded a settlement which was named in honour of the marriage between Philip, heir to the Spanish throne, and Mary Tudor: hence the tribute to the English capital in the village’s name.Read More
The Calchaquí wars
The Calchaquí wars
After the European invasions of this region in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the indigenous tribes who lived along the Valles Calchaquíes, stretching from Salta Province in the north, down to central Catamarca Province, steadfastly refused to be evangelized by the Spanish invaders and generally to behave as their aggressors wanted; the region around Belén and Londres proved especially difficult to colonize. Even the Jesuits, usually so effective at bringing the “natives” under control, conceded defeat. The colonizers made do with a few encomiendas, and more often pueblos, reservations where the Indians were forced to live, leaving the colonizers to farm their “own” land in peace. After a number of skirmishes, things came to a head in 1630, when the so-called Great Calchaquí Uprising began. For two years, under the leadership of Juan Chelemín, the fierce cacique of Hualfín, natives waged a war of attrition against the invaders, sacking towns and burning crops, provoking ever more brutal reactions from the ambitious new governor of Tucumán, Francisco de Nieva y Castilla. Eventually Chelemín was caught, drawn and quartered, and various parts of his body were put on display in different villages to “teach the Calchaquíes a lesson”, but it took until 1643 for all resistance to be stamped out, and only after a network of fortresses was built in Andalgalá, Londres and elsewhere.
War broke out once more in 1657, when the Spanish decided to arrest “El Inca Falso”, also known as Pedro Chamijo, an impostor of European descent who claimed to be Hualpa Inca – or Inca emperor – under the nom de guerre of Bohórquez. Elected chief at an impressive ceremony attended by the new governor of Tucumán, Alonso Mercado y Villacorta, amid great pomp and circumstance, in Pomán, he soon led the Calchaquíes into battle, and Mercado y Villacorta, joined by his ruthless predecessor, Francisco de Nieva y Castilla, set about what today would be called ethnic cleansing. Bohórquez was captured, taken to Lima and eventually garrotted in 1667, and whole tribes fell victim to genocide: their only remains are the ruins of Batungasta, Hualfín and Shinkal, near Londres. Some tribes like the Quilmes, whose settlement is now an archeological site near Amaicha, were uprooted and forced to march to Buenos Aires. Out of seven thousand Quilmes who survived a long and distressing siege in their pukará, or fortress, despite having their food and water supplies cut off, before being led in chains to Buenos Aires, where they were employed as slaves, only a few hundred were left. These few remaining survivors, however, were wiped out in a smallpox epidemic at the end of the eighteenth century.