A Day in Arequipa, the White Stone City
Bright sunshine greeted us when Bob and I awoke in Arequipa, Peru at 6:30 a.m. It is amazing how a little sunlight can change the face of a place. When we emerged from our hotel with a city map in hand, the cobbled streets and high walls seemed less daunting than when we arrived in the dark the night before.
We could get around to all the recommended sights in the Old Quarter of this beautiful city simply by walking. In some ways, the architecture of the buildings reminded us of those throughout the colonial core of Old Quebec City in the province of Quebec, Canada.
First up on our self-guided tour was El Monasterio de Santa Catalina (The Santa Catalina Monastery), which was built in 1579 just 40 years after the Spanish conquered this area and arrived in Arequipa. It was opened to the public for the first time in 1970, on the 430th anniversary of Arequipa’s founding.
The monastery is a 5-acre complex of mud-brick, Iberian-styled buildings surrounded by fortress-like walls and separated by tidy, open plazas and colorful gardens.
Within Santa Catalina Monestery is the Santa Catalina de Siena Convent. This is the Convent’s main cloister.
In 1680, this Convent was the home of Sister Ana De Los Angeles Monteagudo who was a cloistered nun. Various miracles and predictions are attributed to her, and in 1985, Pope John Paul II beatified her. Her feast day is January 10th.
Sister Ana’s main cloister, where she spent her whole life while living in Arequipa, was very peaceful and beautiful.
Bob and I explored almost each and every little chamber and enclave, which often included a small, primitive wood-fired oven for a kitchen.
Narrow lanes and hallways abounded, made colorful in shades of salmon and blue.
This is the “Silence Patio” or what is also called the “Courtyard of Silence”. Here, in this small square, teenage nuns lived during their first years at Santa Catalina Convent.
I took a reprieve from the heat in the “Orange Tree Cloister”. Throughout this section of the monastery, the nuns decorated their rooms with lace sheets, silk curtains and antique furnishings.
The ceilings of the hallways in the Orange Tree Cloister were also very ornately decorated.
The monastery and working convent is a city unto itself with street names; it is one of Peru’s most famed cultural treasures.
One of the working features of the monastery that most impressed Bob and me was the courtyard where the nuns once did their laundry.
Rounding a corner through an archway, we came upon a double-row of gigantic earthen basins,
each resembling a broken urn turned on its side. These are all aligned beside a concrete causeway that runs the length of the courtyard, and that is elevated some 3 feet (1 m) off of the cobbled floor.
At regular intervals along this channel, little water spouts have been made to conduct water into the urns, and although the water flow is constant the length of the channel, it only enters a spout if a diversion is created in the water to direct it into whichever urn someone wishes. Bob experimented by using his hand to divert water into one basin. One at a time, or depending on how many nuns would want to do laundry, all twenty washing basins at once could be utilized. This is really clever! The whole setup was surrounded by colorful gardens.
Once finished touring the convent, our walk took us next to the Plaza de Armas in the center of town.
Multiple walkways intertwine between tall palm trees, flower gardens, and a fountain and combine to make the Square.
Majestic colonial buildings border the whole square with the main one being the elaborate, twin-towered Cathedral.
The twin-towered Cathedral sits on the eastern side of Plaza de Armas square. Built in 1612, this imposing structure has survived a fire in 1844 and an earthquake in 1868, although much reconstruction has had to be done.
An evening stroll in the Plaza De Armas had us mesmerized by the radiance of the city reflected in the giant pools of water.
What a marvelous last impression of Arequipa to take with us when we departed the following morning for the City of Puno and Lake Titicaca.
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