42 Spanish syphilis victims found under 500-year-old Peruvian hospital

Local legend says that the last three rulers of the Inca Empire were buried at the site. Shaped like a cross, the one-hectare complex has a rich and mysterious history.

Klebher Vasquez/Anadolu Agency/Getty ImagesThe remains showed signs of syphilis and had skull deformities.

The Real de San Andrés Hospital in Lima, Peru has long captivated historians. Built exclusively for Spanish patients in 1552, legend has it that it served as the tomb of the last three rulers of the Inca Empire. While these have yet to be found, archaeologists have just unearthed the skeletons of 42 Spanish syphilis victims.

According The daily mail, the bodies were found in the courtyard of the historic hospital building. While it was identified as a cemetery two decades ago and the remains were only buried 12 inches deep, only new archaeological excavations from 2021 have led to their discovery – and an underground crypt near.

The Real de San Andrés Hospital is considered the oldest in Peru and perhaps even in all of South America. It trained the first doctors in the 1500s and provided a ward for the mentally ill and a church for those near death. Religion was a fundamental element of the very design of the site, which was built in the shape of a cross.

Researchers also found pre-Hispanic pottery and a cross around the neck of one of the victims, according to a Associated press report. With 16th century chroniclers describing the bodies of Inca rulers Pachacutec, Huayna Capac and Tupac Yupanqui buried in the crypt, however, this particular area remains the most captivating of them all.

Historical documents note that the three mummies were transported from the capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco, to Lima in order for Viceroy Andrés Hurtado of Mendoza to bear witness. After observing the remains, Mendoza reportedly sent them to the Real de San Andrés Hospital – before having them buried.

“While that was not the original objective of this project, we also do not deny the interest of being able to find the royal mummies during the excavation process,” Walde said.

Workers at Real De San Andres Hospital

Klebher Vasquez/Anadolu Agency/Getty ImagesThe complex was designed in the shape of a cross.

After dominating the Incas and taking control of the city, Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro built a church to symbolize the founding of Lima on January 18, 1535. This coincided with Catholicism’s Epiphany feast celebrating the visit of Jesus by the Three Kings bearing gifts – thus baptizing Lima the “City of Kings”.

The Real de San Andrés Hospital was founded only 17 years later. Francisco de Molina had cared for the poor in his own home during the 1530s and 1540s and now had a formal place to do so. The hospital was eventually named after Spanish Viceroy Andres Hurtado de Wildoso.

The hospital was made up of three sections: a central area, a church and a series of medical services. It was contiguous with offices, a pharmacy, a garden and the cemetery in question – and held an altar at the center of its cross-shaped design. Many unearthed victims bore skull deformities.

Skeleton unearthed from Real De San Andres Hospital

Klebher Vasquez/Anadolu Agency/Getty ImagesThe bodies were predominantly male.

“People who did not survive the treatment were buried here,” said Héctor Walde, chief archaeologist for the municipality of Lima. “Ritual and religiosity in Lima was very strong.”

The one-hectare complex became a hospice for orphans in the 1870s and ceased to serve as both a hospital and a cemetery. It then became a public school with the playground built directly above the old cemetery, and after a major earthquake in 2007 it was abandoned.

Researchers only discovered their first traces of the cemetery when excavations began in the early 2000s. They also found a damaged 19th-century fountain and a colonial-era garbage pit, as well as a structure vaulted below the surface. The unsuspecting shopkeepers on the bustling street were amazed.

“Throughout the block there are a lot of businesses,” said Eulalia Sánchez, a local vendor. “I didn’t know there was a cemetery inside.”

Shallow Graves at Real De San Andres Hospital

Klebher Vasquez/Anadolu Agency/Getty ImagesHistorians believe that the last three Inca rulers were buried at the site.

Ultimately, the fact that this vast complex was discovered remains a marvel. Over the past 100 years, countless modern facilities have been built at the top – from police stations and Chinese restaurants to a variety of businesses and family apartment buildings.

It remains to be seen whether the mummified remains of the last three rulers of the Inca Empire will be unearthed from the site.


After reading about the Real de San Andrés Hospital, learn about the largest site of mass child sacrifice in the world. Next, see the mass grave of Nazi paratroopers discovered in Poland.

Edward K. Thompson