Every flag has a history behind. The colors and geometry of every flag embody a deep symbolism and mysticism. The Peruvian flag is no exception. Although Liberator Jose de San Martin created it nearly two centuries ago, many mysteries surround its inception. How did San Martin come up with this idea? Why did he choose such colors? What was the meaning behind its geometry? Historians provided several theories to solve these riddles. But the only reliable source, Argentinian Liberator San Martin, took his secrets to his tomb.
The Liberation Campaign
On September 7, 1820, San Martin and his troops disembarked on Pisco Bay. A few hundred miles away from Lima (the Royal headquarters), Pisco was a strategic point. During this time, Criollo rebellions against Spain have proliferated. San Martin just had to wait until the declining Royalists gave in so that his troops may invade Lima. Meanwhile, the general pondered ways to undermine the morale of Spaniards and boost his Army. He studied military strategies to end his liberation campaign without casualties.
Inhabiting a house near Pisco’s main square, San Martin spent idle hours meditating. Foreseeing the founding of the Peruvian state, San Martin had vague ideas for a future Peruvian Flag, a Coat of Arms and the National Anthem. Historians indicate that San Martin’s lonely days in Pisco were fruitful. Official documents reveal that it was in this sunny bay where he invented the flag. However, the theories explaining the creation of the flag are widely unpopular. Yet, in the early 1900’s, writer Abraham Valdelomar published the story “The Dream of San Martin,” trying to explain how the flag was conceived. The beautiful tale moved Peruvians in a way that it soon became the ‘official’ version.
The Dream of San Martin
Valdelomar tale goes like this. One evening, San Martin went for a horseback ride along Pisco’s bay. After a long excursion, the general dismounted his horse and leaned against a tree. San Martin then fell asleep. In his dream, Pisco had magically transformed into a modern city. “Immense crowds walked feverishly in an infinite yearning for work and renewal. And when all the people had risen, when progress and liberty were bearing fruit, they heard a triumphal march and saw..a beautiful flag, simple and eloquent that waved with pride on that powerful people,” Valdelomar wrote.
San Martin suddenly awoke and a flock of Parihuanas (Andean flamingos) was flying across the sky. Parihuanas are particularly striking for its beautiful red and white feathers. Overwhelmed by their beauty, San Martin believed that the potential Peruvian flag should have those colors. As they abandoned the bay shores, San Martin asked his officers:”Do you see that flock of birds going north?”
“Yes, General, White and Red,” said one general.
“It looks like a flag,” another added.
“Yes,” said San Martin, “they are a flag. The flag of freedom…”
On October 21, 1980, the general issued a decree: “we will adopt the national country flag which will be made of silk, or canvas, eight feet long and six wide, divided by diagonal lines into four fields, both upper and lower ends will be white, and the sides will be red..”
Accordingly, the first Peruvian flag had this shape:
Days later, San Martin abandoned Pisco hoping to get closer to Lima. His troops arrived in the town of Huaura (north of Lima) in November 1820. All those weeks, the General had been thinking of ways to demoralize Spaniards and invigorate his troops. Finally, he had a brilliant idea. San Martin decided to trust his own words. On November 27, the cunning General summoned his troops to his residence. Standing on his balcony, San Martin proclaimed: “From this moment on, Peru is Free and Independent, by the general will of its citizens and for the justice of their cause which God protects. Long live our homeland, long live to freedom, long live our independence!”
Rumors of San Martin’s declaration of Independence soon reached the ears of Spaniards. Royalists became nervous, terrified and anxious. Months later, Spaniards abandoned Lima in droves. San Martin invaded Lima, in June 1821.
At times, words have more power than the most lethal weapon and army.𝔖