Within ten square blocks in the heart of downtown Lima, there are about ten baroque churches and chapels. Some of them lost their stone-carved porticos long ago, to the earthquake of 1746 or to the no-less-cataclysmic fury of neoclassical renovation, but the few that retained them have also retained, in the riveting intricacy of their sculpted facades, a very eloquent articulation of the dependency of beauty on effect. Of all those temples, the Church of La Merced is one of the most enthralling. Today, despite the churches' dwindling budgets and languishing congregations, one only has to visit La Merced (or San Francisco, San Pedro, or San Agustín, a couple blocks over) to see the power that these baroque altars still command. The Church of La Merced, along with the few other seventeenth- and eighteenth-century buildings that are left scattered around downtown Lima, were centerpieces in Mayor Alberto Andrade's vigorous, if short-lived, project of beautification of the city center in 1996–2002, as part of his urban renewal campaign.
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