The roofwork on San Francisco Church is not to miss!
Remember, Illimani, the triple peaked, snow capped mountain visable from the city's center is to the south. La Paz follows the course of a canyon which runs from north to south with the direction of the water. La Paz grew up along the river that formed the canyon, the Choqueyapu, which was diverted underground as the city grew. The main plaza which runs through the city's center, "el Prado", roughly follows the course of the river. At the upper (north) end of the Prado is Plaza Mayor, and San Francisco Church.
La Paz was founded on October 20th, 1548, and in the same year a convent was built, the Convent of San Francisco, on the spot you are now standing. There would have doubtlessly existed Aymara farming communities up and down the river, though many of the inhabitants have perished from diseases brought by the Spanish, or fled into the Yungas on routes such the Choro or Takesi to escape their cruelty by this time. The ones that have survived and stayed are "pacified" and put to work on projects such as the convent, and the "first" San Francisco Church, which was begun in 1549 and finished in 1581. Sometime between 1608 and 1612 a heavy snowfall collapsed the roof. The present day construction was not begun until 1743, with recycled materials and parts of the original foundation, and was completed in 1753, and is one of the best examples of Baroque Mestizo or Andean Baroque architecture. Facing the church head to the right and locate the museum and office. The museum has some great paintings by Bolivian artists. Check out the old convent courtyard, and ask about a tour of the church, in which you can go up on to the roof, and to the crypt below. This is perhaps the best few bolivianos you can spend in La Paz.
Did you Know? The population of Bolivia has only recently rebounded to its former, pre-Colombian population? As recently as 1960-1970.
If it's morning why not grab a salteña? These are the traditional breakfast empenada of Bolivia. They're filled with beef or chicken, potatoes, onions, hard boiled egg and a spicy/sweet sauce. Sometimes they have unpitted olives inside, so watch your teeth! The story of the salteña dates to the early 19th century, and Juana Manuela Goritti, an Argentinian writer from Salta who was exiled to Tarija, Bolivia with her family during the regime of Argentinian dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas. In order to endure financial hardship the family developed the recipe from a pastry popular in Europe at the time to vend in the street in the morning. The snack was incredibly popular, and with mothers telling their children to run down the street to pick up an empenada from the "Salteña" (lady from Salta) and the name soon stuck.