Arequipa – The White City of Peru

After the wedding at Piura, Peru, we flew to Lima, early morning on January 06.  We were joined by Stephens, our travel companions.  The party consisted of Vijas, Ranga, Aravazhi with their better-halves and Mrs. Anita Chandramouli.  Our trip was organised by JourneYou, a travel company founded in 2011 by a team of travel professionals.  Their agent received us at Lima Airport and facilitated our check-in for the Arequipa flight. After an hour, we landed at Rodriguez Ballon International Airport at Arequipa.

Arequipa in Southern Peru is the second most populated city in Peru. It is considered one of the most fascinating areas in the country, due to its architecture, varied gastronomy, impressive landscapes, imposing volcanoes, and the deepest canyon in the world. The most prominent feature of the landscape of Arequipa is undoubtedly the majestic Misti volcano, which sits at 5,825m above sea level. ‘El Misti’ comes from the Quechua language (language of Incan Empire), meaning ‘The Gentleman.’

Prior to exiting Arequipa Airport, all our baggage was thoroughly scanned by Animal and Plant Health Service of Peru to detect if we were in possession of any fruit – a rare inspection, that too when flying within the country!  It is to ensure that no fruit flies, its larvae or eggs are brought into this region.  Passengers who were in possession of any fruit had to either consume it or discard it there.

Southern Peru has managed to eradicate fruit flies by means of the area-wide integrated application of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), a nuclear technology package developed by a joint division of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  These pests used to cause annual losses of up to US$12 million to the farmers and fruit growers in Peru.

Arequipa is named the “White City” (Ciudad Blanca) due to the whiteness of the houses and buildings made using white ashlar, a volcanic stone abundantly found in the area. In the background of the photograph above is the Misti Volcano on the Left and Pichu Pichu Volcano (5,669m) to the Right.

On arrival at the Airport, we were greeted by our travel guide from JourneYou, who escorted us to our hotel.  After lunch we set out to explore the city with our travel guide.  Our first stop was Santa Catalina Monastery.

Convent of Santa Catalina de Siena was built in 1579 and it served as a cloister for Dominican nuns from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, and it still houses a small religious community today. The complex is built from volcanic Sillar stone and is organized into cloisters, living quarters, a plaza, a gallery, and a chapel.  The Monastery was founded by Maria de Guzman, a rich widow, who only accepted nuns from the rich Spanish families. Traditionally, the second daughter of upper-class families entered a nunnery, supposedly to live in poverty and renounce the material world.  They had to pay a dowry on entry and they lived in luxury with servants or slaves.

In addition to the dowry, the nuns also had to bring 25 listed items which included a statue, a painting, a lamp and clothes. In the case of the wealthiest nuns, these included the finest English china and wonderful silk curtains and rugs.

The Orange Tree Cloister (Claustro los Naranjos) in the Monastery have three crosses set among the orange trees and these constitute the center of the Passion of the Christ ceremonies, a dramatic presentation of the trial, suffering and death of Jesus Christ, carried out during Lent.

Apart from daily prayer and meals, the nuns took time to bake (mostly bread) which was then either eaten communally or sold to the public.  This photograph depicts what was once their kitchen with a stone water filter on the Right.

We then visited an old chapel, now converted into an art museum with over 400 restored paintings.

This is Calle Toledo, a long boulevard with a communal laundry at its end, where the nuns (probably their servants) washed their clothes in halved earthenware shell like basins.  The laundry area is surrounded by a colourful garden.  Water was diverted from the channel in the center to the washing pot by blocking it with the hand.  Everyone tried their hand at this.

Walking out from the convent through its lanes and by-lanes, we headed straight to the city-center.

When the city was founded in 1540, it all begun with the square – Plaza de Armas.  Surrounded by the Cathedral and various portals.  In the center is a fountain with a beautiful bronze statue of a soldier.

On the Northern side of the Square is the majestic Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa, the most important Catholic church of the city.  Its construction started in 1540, the same year that the city of Arequipa was founded, built in ashlars (white volcanic stone) and brick vaults.  Throughout its history the church was destroyed many times by fire, earthquakes and volcanic explosions, restored after each destruction, the latest in 2001.

On January 6 Peruvians, just as many other Christians, commemorate the arrival of the Three Wise Men or Three Kings at Jesus’ manger bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  A large crowd had assembled at the Cathedral, with many occupying the roads  to celebrate the event.  Thus we decided not to get into the church.

Our next stop was Jesuit Church of Company, located on the South-East corner of the Square.  Its facade is an intricately carved masterpiece in ashlars.  The design of the church is Spanish, but the carvings in these stones are filled with relief and the motifs which are mostly Incan.  Construction of this church commenced in 1578, but was destroyed many times over due to various earthquakes.

Inside the church is the high altar which houses a painting of Mother Mary with child Jesus by Italian painter Bernardo Bitti, who had come to Peru in 1575.

On the either sides of the main alter there are two more beautiful altars, carved with gilded wood. It is called the “Altar of the Founders,” as it holds many images of several founders of the Jesuit order.

After the long and tiring walking tour of Arequipa city, we had dinner and returned to our hotel for a well deserved rest.

3 thoughts on “Arequipa – The White City of Peru

  1. Splendid narration. Nice pics. I had two pen friends from Calao, lima when at Sainik school, so had wished to see the place from that time! Your write up made up for it to an extent. Thanks a ton.

    Liked by 1 person

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