Located 1000 kilometres south of Lima at an altitude of 2,225 meters, Arequipa is considered, the second most important city in Peru. It was founded by the Spanish on August the 15th, 1540 under the orders of Garci Manuel de Carbajal in the valley of the Chili River and it was named “Villa Hermosa de Arequipa”. A year later, it was granted the status of a city through a royal decree issued on October the 7th, 1541 by Carlos V of Spain.
The name Arequipa is the result of a combination of two words: ‘Are’ and ‘quipa’. It may have been derived from the Quechua words ‘ari’, which means ‘yes’, and ‘quipay’, which means ‘stay’.
After its foundation, Arequipa was immediately inhabited by Spanish conquistadores and colonists and it quickly became the highest concentration of Hispanic inhabitants in the Viceroyalty of Peru. It was built using the white volcanic rock known as Sillar, which is common in this volcanic region. Arequipa, together with Moquegua and Tacna, is located in the volcanic southern Andes and the city itself is constructed at the foot of the El Misti volcano.
Historians have used Arrowheads and rock art from the region to prove that human occupation around Arequipa spans over ten thousand years. This began with early groups of hunter-gatherers arriving here on a seasonal basis from 8000 BC to around 1000 BC when horticulture and ceramic technology began to appear in small settlements along streams and rivers. Initially influenced by the Paracas culture and later by the Tiahuanaco-I Huari, two major local tribes emerged sharing the area: the Churajone and the Chuquibamba who thrived higher up in the Andean plateaus above Arequipa.
The Incas were not alone in finding Arequipa to their liking. When Pizarro officially ‘founded’ the city in 1540, he was moved enough to call it Villa Hermosa, or Beautiful Town, and Don Quixote, author of Miguel de Cervantes, extolled the city’s virtues, saying that it enjoyed an eternal springtime. The white stone lent itself to extravagant buildings and attracted master architects to the city.
Arequipa is the 3rd city of Peru, behind Lima and Trujillo. At an altitude of 2335 meters above sea level, Arequipa is lower than Cusco, Puno and the nearby Colca Canyon.
The city often experiences small earthquakes and sometimes volcanic eruptions from the nearby active volcanos.
There are three volcanos that tower over Arequipa city: Chanchani (19939 feet), Misti (19101 feet) and Pichu Pichu (18599 feet). Misti is the only active volcano with a history of large eruptions of the three, but it is currently dormant.
Arequipa has some of the best weather in all of Peru and has an average of 300 sunny days every year. Located close to the desert, you can expect to experience strong sun during the day and cooler weather at night.
Iglesia Santo Domingo
East of the Iglesia La Compañía and the plaza you’ll find the exquisitely restored Iglesia Santo Domingo, originally built in 1553 by Gaspar Baez, the first master architect to arrive, in Arequipa. What you see today, was built between 1650 and 1698, but suffered major damage during the earthquakes of 1958 and 1960. The large main door represents an interesting example of Arequipa’s craftsmanship – an Indian face amid a bunch of grapes, leaves and cacti – and the side door is said to be the oldest in the city.
Monasterio De Santa Catalina
Two blocks north of the Plaza de Armas, the vast walls of the Monasterio de Santa Catalina shelters a convent that housed almost two hundred secluded nuns and three hundred servants from the late sixteenth century until 1970. The most important and prestigious religious building in Peru, its enormous complex of rooms, cloisters and tiny plazas takes half a day to explore. Some thirty nuns who still live here today, worship in the main chapel only outside of opening hours. The most striking feature is its predominantly Mudéjar style, adapted by the Spanish from the Moors, however, it has been acknowledged by historians that this site is a rarity as the Mudejar style rarely found its way into colonial buildings. The design is emphasized by a superb difference between the white stone and brilliant colours, the strong sunlight and deep-blue sky above the maze of narrow interior streets.
Iglesias Y De San Francisco
The Plazuela De San Francisco is home to a Franciscan complex, dominated by a convent and the Iglesia De San Francisco. Yet another of Gaspar Baez’s projects, this one dating back to 1569, it shows an interesting mix of brick and Sillar work both inside the complex and on the facade. Original paintings by Baltazar de Prado once covered the central nave, but the earthquake of 1604 destroyed these works. However, the nave retains its most impressive feature – a pure-silver altar.
Monasterio De Santa Teresa
Close to the centre of town, Monasterio De Santa Teresa is smaller than Santa Catalina but has astonishingly beautiful colonial patios set around a large open courtyard.
Monasterio De La Recoleta
The Monasterio De La Recoleta is located on the western side of the Río Chili, which runs its generally torrential course through Arequipa from Selva Alegre, dividing the old heart of the city from what has become a more modern downtown sector, including Yanahuara and Cayman. This large Franciscan monastery stands conspicuously alone on Callejón de La Recoleta, just ten to fifteen minutes walk east of the Plaza de Armas.
The stunning major and mirror cloisters were built in 1651. In 1869 it was converted to an Apostolic Mission school administered by the Barefoot Franciscans. It is the archeology and natural history museums that really draw people to visit the Monasterio De La Recoleta.
Museo Santuarios Andinos
The Museo Santuarios Andinos, part of the Universidad Católica de Santa María, is arguably the most important museum in Arequipa today, with displays some nineteen Inca mummies and a range of archeological remains; guides are obligatory but their fee, which is additional, is negotiable. The main exhibit is Juanita, the ancient 13-year-old “princess” uncovered in her icy ritual grave on September the 8th, 1995, by an expedition that included the archeologists Johan Reinhard and José Chavez, along with the well-known Andinista Miguel Zarate. Her gravesite, located at the incredible altitude of 6380m on Ampato Volcano, is estimated to approximately 500 years old.
The municipal plaza possesses a beautiful viewing point, which has been made famous by postcards. To get here, buses and colectivos can be caught from the corner of Grau with Santa Catalina, or from Puente Grau or alternatively, it’s a fifteen-minute walk from Puente Grau (l-2km), between blocks 2 and 3 of Avenida Ejercito.
The small Iglesia Yanahuara on the tranquil main plaza dates to the middle of the eighteenth century and its Baroque facade is particularly fine, with a stone relief of the tree of life incorporating angels, flowers, saints, lions and hidden Indian races.
From Puente Grau, a longish stroll takes you across to the west bank of Chili, along Avenida Ejercito and out to the suburb of Cayman. The area was once a small suburb with views over the city, but now reflects the commercial, even flashy side of Arequipa, with large shops and even one or two nightclubs. The suburb also offers exquisite views of the Chachani Volcano.
Puente De Fierro
South of the city centre, the Arequipa black-iron bridge provides a great vantage point for views over the city to El Misti. Although spanning half a kilometre, it was well-designed by Gustave Eiffel and built to such high standards by railway baron Henry May, that it has successfully vaulted the city´s bubbling Río Chili, it has withstood the test of Arequipa’s severe earthquakes and tremors, for over a hundred years.
Plaza De Armas
Arequipa’s main plaza is a monument to the city’s Sillar architecture – white, muscular and aesthetically unique. Impressive colonnaded balconies line three sides, whilst the fourth is given over to the cathedral with its two soaring towers.
Originally built in the 17th century, the cathedral’s luminous interiors contain 12 Italian marble columns. In 1870, Belgium provided the organ, said to be the largest in South America and interestingly, damage during shipping condemned the devout to listen to its distorted notes for more than a century. It is the only cathedral in Peru the stretches the length of a plaza.
Museo Arte Virreinal De Santa Teresa
This gorgeous 17th-century Carmelite convent and museum is filled with priceless votive objects art, murals, precious metal works, colonial-era paintings and other historical artifacts. A shop at the front of the complex sells baked goods and rose-scented soaps made by the nuns.
Religious Festivals: Señor De Los Milagros
In the month of October, the people gather at San Agustin church to celebrate the purple month. The celebrations centre around Senor de Los Milagros and the Virgen de la Nube. All month pictures of the Senor are carried around the town, churches and hospitals.
In the past, the cultures of the Andes thought of the volcanos as powerful spirits that had total control of the weather and the crops. Today some still believe this to be the case, thinking the volcanos to be both protector and something to be feared.
The department of Arequipa has a grand history of some of the greatest artists, writers, musicians originating from the district. The famous Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa comes from Arequipa as well as writer Mariano Melgar and other famous people include painter Carlos Baca Flor. Today Arequipa has many interesting museums and galleries that testify to its artistic history.
Arequipa cuisine is a mixture of delicious spicy food and traditional Peruvian dishes.
Some recommended dishes are as follows:
- Adobo; a spicy stew made with pork and onion.
- Rocoto Relleno; a pepper stuffed with delicious minced beef, eggs and topped with melted cheese.
- Caldo Blanco; white soup filled with lamb and vegetables and potatoes.
- Chupe de Camarones; a prawn soup made with milk and cheese.
Tour the Historic Centre
The centre of Arequipa is one of the most beautiful centres in all of Peru. You will quickly see why the city is called the White City as most of the buildings in the centre are made from Sillar; a volcanic stone Native to the area.
Try the Food
According to the people of Arequipa, they believe that the food of the region is the best that you can find in Peru. Don’t forget to try the Adobo, Rocoto Relleno and the Chupe de Camarones and if you get a chance, try the Queso Helado for dessert.
Yanahuara Balcony Viewpoint
A lovely neighbourhood that hosts a small tree-lined plaza leading to a “mirador” or lookout point. This viewpoint has exceptional views of the city and of its nearby volcanoes. The arches here are caved with quotes from Arequipa’s most prolific writers.
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