The parihuana, or Andean flamingo, is said to have inspired the colors of the Peruvian flag. According to the story, Argentine General José de San Martin saw a flock of the birds take off in flight after a nap during the campaign to liberate Peru from the Spanish. He later chose the bird’s colors for the first independent Peruvian flag.
Peru’s national flag design was approved on Feb. 25, 1825. There are two versions of the flag, both in a 2:3 proportion. The civil version is made up of three equal vertical stripes – red, white, red. The state or government version adds the coat of arms in the center of the white stripe. The coat of arms features a shield in three sections. On top is a vicuña, a llama-like animal, and a cinchona tree, which is the source of quinine, a malaria remedy. On the bottom is a cornucopia filled with gold coins. The items on the shield represent the flora, fauna and mineral wealth of the country. Around the shield are green branches and a laurel wreath. Some versions of the coat of arms replace the greenery with red-and-white striped flags. Congressmen José Gregorio Paredes and Francisco Javier Cortés designed the coat of arms.
General San Martin had designed an earlier version of the flag upon independence from Spain in 1821. It was quartered diagonally, creating two red triangles on either side and two white triangles on the top and bottom. The coat of arms for this flag featured a rising sun, a symbol associated with the Incas, between two green mountains. In 1822, the diagonal lines were changed to three horizontal stripes of red and white and a red sun was kept as the centerpiece. However, this design was judged to be too similar to Spain’s flag and replaced with the current design in 1825.
For a brief time from 1838 to 1839, Peru had two flags. Peru joined Bolivia in the Peru-Bolivian Confederation and split into North and South Peru. North Peru kept the national flag, but South Peru adopted a new flag. South Peru’s flag featured a red vertical band on the hoist side and one green and one white horizontal stripe on the fly side. Inside the red section was a golden sun topped with four stars representing the four provinces of the country.