The Historic Centre of the City of Arequipa is one of the most interesting examples of Latin American architecture and town planning. Frequent earthquakes, the abundant presence of volcanic rock, known as silla
, and the city’s geographical isolation lead to the development of a distinct local architecture. It is characterized by the robustness of its walls, extensive use of archways and vaults, Romanic courtyards and open spaces and baroque decoration of the facades.
The artistic designs show the integration of European and native characteristics, resulting in some of the best mestizo Baroque buildings in the world. Most of them originated in the 16th century, but were built over and over again in the 17th and 18th centuries after several earthquakes struck.
Furthermore, the city has a spectacular natural setting in the foothills of three snow-capped volcanoes.
The Historic Centre is a uniform ensemble of both religious monuments and private houses. The most important historic ensembles of Arequipa include:
• The convent of Santa Catalina
• The Plaza Mayor and the Cathedral
• La Compañia
• Santo Domingo
• La Merced
• San Agustin
• San Francisco
Visit May 2011
I did my round along Arequipa´s churches and convent on an early Sunday morning. It was mother´s day as well, so most of the churches were open for services and generally packed. People walked in and out, so it was not difficult for me to get in as well.
La Compania was my first stop, and this one already has the sculptured façade that Arequipa is known for. The rest of the construction is quite bland and bulky, which makes the decorations at the front really stand out. This church also has a façade at the side, with a fine sculpture of a knight (St. James) and two mermaids. At San Francisco church I first clearly saw the enormous vaults that support so many of the buildings here in Arequipa – to survive another earthquake that will come sooner or later. Via the small La Merced and the 18th century San Agustin, I arrived at the Santo Domingo church where the wooden altar stands out.
The convent of Santa Catalina is the highlight of the city, and could have earned WH status on its own merits alone. A tour will take you along the different parts of the convent, which walls are painted red, blue and yellow to soften the reflection of the sun on the naturally white silla. This colouring I think is one of the reasons tourists enjoy it so much, it is very picturesque. But the convent’s history is fascinating too: the nuns here were really locked away from the rest of the world, but lived in comfort and died at an average age of 80 years. They spent their days on embroidery and prayer, but were not taught to read and write until the 19th century.
The day after, I was finally lucky to get into the Cathedral. I had tried several times on Sunday, but it was mostly either closed or a service was going on (and then tourists are not allowed to enter). It took awhile to get used to the Cathedral´s interior: it is so much more “new” than the other churches here. But then its neoclassical features started to become clear. The statues of catholic saints resemble those of Greek philosophers.
In all, Arequipa is a very pleasant city to stay in. Besides the historical city center, the Mansion del Fundador (8kms away) and the museum where the frozen Inca girl Juanita is shown are also well worth visiting. The city in general isn’t as “white” as its nickname would suggest. Only part of the buildings in the city center are off-white (or grey, due to pollution). Lots of them are yellow, red or blue however. The guide at the Santa Catalina convent told us that “White City” referred to the original population type of the city consisting of white Spaniards, not to the colour of its constructions.
More photos can be found in the Picture Gallery
|Stephen Brooker ():|
A beautiful colonial city and an ideal place to spend a day acclimatizing to altitude. Don't miss either the main square or the Santa Catalina Convent both of which are stunning.
As an aside I dinned in an Argentinian restraunt here - enjoying steak, salad and 'chips of the day,' which were made from three different sorts of potato one yellow, one bight orange and one pinky mauve!
| Date posted: September 2008|
|Joyce (The Netherlands):|
Ah, beautiful Arequipa, the colonial city surrounded by snowy volcanoes. The city has some beautiful churches and buildings with very ornate facades, there’s a nice vibe on the Plaza de Armas but the highlight of the city is the Santa Catalina Convent. Built from the white local Sillar stone, and often painted red or blue, this convent is an oasis in the busy city. It’s pretty much a small city within the city with it’s little charming streets, houses with ovens, squares with religious paintings and staircases.
The entrance fee is quite steep (you can easily buy two meals for it) but it’s definitely a place not to be missed.
| Date posted: July 2008|
|Paul Tanner (UK):|
If you are journeying between Lima and the Altiplano at least 1 way by land (as you really should) then a stop over in Arequipa is certainly worthwhile both to break the journey and to take in this pleasant colonial town.
Its main claim to fame lies in the buildings, particularly the churches with their carved facades, built in the local white volcanic stone (photo).
Its climate is very fine with mostly clear sunny days, not too hot and providing wonderful views of the surrounding volcanoes – one of which “El Misti” is the archetypal volcanic conical shape. The Santa Catalina Convent is also worth a visit.
| Date posted: June 2005|
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