Small white church with a steepled two story entrance, and a terra cotta or sandstone cross out front

High in the Peruvian Andes sits the Comunidad Campesina Kuñotambo, a small, remote village founded in the 17th century. As in many places in Peru, the majority of Kuñotambo’s buildings are made of the earth they stand on. These mud-brick (adobe) structures are also known as earthen architecture and can be found all over the world.

Earthen buildings are vulnerable to earthquakes, and this village has suffered many. Over time, these earthquakes seriously damaged its beautiful historic church, considered the heart and soul of Kuñotambo. In 2005, the church was forced to shutter altogether.

Last summer, the residents of Kuñotambo celebrated the reopening and rededication of their much-loved church after years of painstaking conservation work led by the Getty Conservation Institute and the Dirección Desconcentrada de Cultura de Cusco. The techniques used in this case study project demonstrate how earthen structures can withstand earthquakes, and has relevance in many other places that commonly use earth as a building material.

Watch the story of the road to conservation and the reopening celebration

In the year since the church reopened, it has been used regularly for mass and baptisms, and locals have equipped the space with an audio system and additional benches to accommodate worshippers. At Christmas, the church hosted the children of Kuñotambo for a community celebration, and there have been organized visits from Kuñotambinos living in the city of Cusco as well.

The Conservation Institute continues to work with project partners in the area, and is currently developing a monitoring and maintenance plan for the church that will be a model for similar structures. It is now tackling another project in Peru, this time at the Cathedral of Ica. You can read more here about this project as well as Getty’s ongoing work to retrofit buildings like these for earthquakes.


Conserving the Church of Kuñotambo


Everyone in this town is happy. All of the neighbors from the surrounding towns are delighted.

I think that the recovery of this monument is not only physical. But it also means everything that complements faith. Also, it’s an opportunity to re-value some cultural processes that have been interrupted over time.

God has wanted our temple to be restored.


Peru is a high seismic risk area, and here in this region, there have been many seismic events. As a result, these monuments have been deteriorating. A lot of cracking has appeared, and in some cases, collapses, like in the case of Kuñotambo.


In 2006, the Getty Conservation Institute started a study on how to reinforce historic buildings. And to that end, they came to Peru, where there is a huge amount of these types of buildings.


One of the problems that earthen buildings have is that they fall into the category of unreinforced masonry buildings. That means that in an earthquake, they’d suffer from sudden collapse. One of the major issues with earthen sites is that the techniques that exist to retrofit those buildings are not suitable for earthen materials.


In 2007, there was an earthquake that had its epicenter in Ica, Peru.


Mere days after the earthquake, the Getty Conservation Institute took a trip through the southern region of Peru to evaluate the state of different buildings.


In 2009, the Getty designed the methodology to develop the seismic retrofitting project that was mostly divided in four phases. During the first phase, we have to choose four buildings that represent four different typologies. One of them is this cathedral, the Cathedral of Ica, that was damaged during the 2007 earthquake.

We selected Hotel Comercio; it’s an historic site that is located in the historic center of Lima. We selected Casa Arones, that is in the historic center of Cusco. And for the case of the church in the Andes, we selected the Church of Kuñotambo, that has never been touched, built in the 17th century, and has wall paintings.


In the beginning, we found the church in a very neglected state of repair. It was a very deteriorated state which I had never, in other jobs, had such an experience before.


It was in a state where it was practically already collapsed.


The Kuñotambo church project has a special challenge. It is the combination of the traditional way of working that we have here in our region, combined with new contributions that come from the Getty Conservation Institute, referring to the structural reinforcement of the monuments in mudbrick, and also to the criteria of intervention of the mural paintings which exist in large parts of the church.

The engineers from Peru have been working on this and researching adobe constructions for many, many years, architects as well. So there is a vast amount of information that we could take advantage of. We also have really reliable partners here that could implement the techniques that we design. They have a lot of expertise implementing projects.

So in Kuñotambo, the work has already started, and I think the institution is really proud and excited by the fact that we were able to do all this research through all these years. And we are able to partner with our Peruvian colleagues to actually carry on the implementation.

It’s not only the fact that we have provided this analysis and understanding of the seismic behavior of the church. But also, we have learned a lot from the way they carry on projects. And we have been able to also work with them in the stabilization of the wall paintings prior to the retrofitting of the site.

I think it has been one of the most important challenges to have worked on the mural paintings without disassembling the painting itself. That is to say, working with them on site, making the reinforcement problem be worked on from the outside in and not the other way around. So as not to touch the mural paintings other than in their conservation stage.

This project was highly academic, purely developed in a scientific manner with results that will be invaluable for the future study of conservation processes.

I hope that from now on, many more projects will take into account some of the criteria that have been considered in this project.


I am very excited. I have had the satisfaction of working with friends at Getty. I have never imagined working with them and have that experience. That brings me a lot of excitement.


There is a great expectation and joy to participate in this event. We have been here all this time, doing this work and meeting the people, and we know that they have a very special quality, that still maintain many of the Andean customs that happily coexist in this area over time.

The restoration of the temple in Kuño Tambo will allow the people of these communities to look back at themselves and bring life back to this monument. It will be an invaluable contribution to the culture of the region.