Thursday, July 10, 2008


We have started our journey back up North and the city of Arequipa has been on our minds. It is the second-biggest city of Peru, and definitely worth a stop. Not only is it clean, white, and of manageable dimensions, it also offers a superb cuisine and desserts. Enough to make us salivate and rest a couple of days. In addition, there is the Monasterio de Santa Catalina.

This abbey has been founded quickly after the Conquistadors arrived in the country. Evangelizing of the locals was one of the stated purposes and importing the main catholic ideas, such as Jesuits and abbeys, rapidly became a fashion. Thus, in 1579, first three nuns started developing what later became a real citadel in the center of Arequipa. It has been open to the public only in 1970, 390 years after it was founded.

There are still around 20 nuns living in the Northern corner of the abbey, but today it is mainly a tourist attraction. The abbey itself is a puzzle of multicolored streets and squares, a wonderful architectural feat and a place to let your mind wonder around, replete with images of the past. It is very well restored, and early birds get the place almost to themselves.

The nuns in this abbey used to come from rather rich families, and at a certain time had up to 4 slaves attending them. Hence, they built a women´s kingdom, beautiful to the eye and soul. The dowry they were supposed to bring to the abbey with them was about 2 400 silver (potosian) coins, or around $50 000 today. About 450 people are said to have lived in the abbey at its peak (one third nuns, the rest slaves), although it has been reformed in the 19th century to combat the opulence by a nun sent directly by the Pope from Rome. It still does look like a place from Marquez´s novellas, and one just can´t stop wondering what the life inside these doors must have been like.

Arequipa is a rare Peruvian city full of charm. Although el Misti, its famous, Fuji-like volcano, does not have a gram of snow anymore, it is still a pleasure to wonder through its streets and admire its whitish buildings, made out of sillar, a white volcanic rock from a quarry near-by.

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