The history of the Day of the Flag in Peru

Each year on the 7th on June, Peru celebrates la Día de la Bandera: Day of the Flag. It is a day of national pride full of festivities such as parades and various ceremonies. The day dates back to the Peruvian resistance to the Chilean invasion in 1880 at the Morro de Arica; a mountain located in Southern-Peru. Interested in getting to know more about this national festivity? Keep reading!

Photo: Shutterstock

The story behind Flag Day in Peru

Every 7th of June, the defense of the Morro de Arica is remembered, which was part of the War of the Pacific. The War of the Pacific was the name the war between Peru and Chile from 1879 until 1883. Among the 1,800 soldiers that fought against the Chilean army, important figures were Colonel Francisco Bolognesi and Alfonso Ugarte. During the War of the Pacific these soldiers fought to defend the national territory against the Chileans. Due to that historic fact, the Day of the Flag is celebrated every year.

After that, a new era began. Having lost the battles at Punta Angamos, Punta Gruesa and Inquique, the enemy advanced without oppostion after the defeat at Alto de la Allianza and the withdrawal of the Bolivian army. Which is funny because at the beginning the war was between Bolivia and Chile.

Flag day Peru Morro de Arica
Colonel Bolognesi fighting the Chilean soldiers at the Morro de Arica.
Source: EuropaPress

Previous events

The city of Tacna was later on captured by the Chileans who had more than 5,000 soldiers, far better equipped than the Peruvian army. They had better weapons and supplies. Colonel Bolognesi was in command and agreed to defend the Morro and hold back the Chileans as much as possible.

The opposing Chilean general, Baquedano then sent Major José de la Cruz Salvo to get Bolognesi’s surrender. The Chileans were superior and had more forces and troops, so they set a meeting with the Peruvians to make them surrender. But the Colonel resisted with his now famous words: ¨Tengo deberes sagrados que cumplir y los cumpliré hasta quemar el último cartucho¨. Which means: ¨I have sacred duties to comply and I will comply them until the last cartridge is burned¨.

day of the flag Peru
Recreation of the Battle of Arica in the film ‘Glory of the Pacific’ by Juan Carlos Oganes.
Source: Capture film ‘Glory of the Pacific’

Get to know more about Peruvian history and read the story of Tahuantinsuyo, the Inca Empire.

A Risky Plan

The battle was imminent. The Peruvians planned a defense strategy on three fronts: El Morro was defended by Colonel Juan Guillermo Moore, Lieutenant Colonel Medardo Cornejo was in charge of the eastern part and the northern part was defended by Lieutenant Colonel Juan Pablo Ayllón. After a failed attempt to bomb the Morro by Teodoro Elmore, the enemy did not prosper. Later, Elmore was arrested for this stupid plan and this failed Peruvian strategy was kept a secret for years.

On June 7th, 1880, around 5:30 in the morning, the bloody battle began. In spite of the balance of power, as the Chileans had more force, the Peruvian soldiers fought bravely until the bitter end. The retreat was imminent and the last bastion of defense became the Morro. The defense of Bolognesi appeared to work for a few moments, but the battle was just not fair.

The Peruvian heroes of the Resistance

Bolognesi was killed in the war, as were Juan Guillermo Moore and Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zavala. There are different stories about the death of Colonel Alfonso Ugarte. One version is that when seeing the arrival of the enemy, he took the flag and jumped of the mountain with his horse to avoid being taken by the Chileans. Another version, endorsed by Chilean historians such as Vicuña Mackenna, says that Ugarte died in defeat, as did Bolognesi and Moore. The Chileans threw his body – and that of hundreds of other soldiers – into the sea because of orders from their superiors.

day of the flag Peru
Alfonso Ugarte and one of the versions of his death in the Battle of Arica.
Source: Abrecht Group

Because of this event, the Day of the Flag was instituted every year on the 7th of June to remember the effort and heroism of the Peruvian soldiers, despite the hardship they had to face and that of the enemy and the Peruvian government at that time. If you are visiting Cusco at the beginning of June, you will surely attend this special gathering.

Proyecto Peru is a Volunteering and Language Centre focussed on responsible volunteering in Cusco. Check our website for volunteer and internship opportunities.

Article translated and edited from RPP Noticias.