Arequipa, also known as La Cuidad Blanca or the “White City”, was an extraordinary Spanish colonial city in Peru to visit. In hindsight, I wish that I dedicated more time here to stay and play.
The city of Arequipa was magnificent to see with its 16th – 17th century Baroque facades, and elaborate architecture. All built in volcanic sillar rock, which gives the city its bone coloring, and leading to its name, White City.
When we first approached Arequipa through the narrow streets, I could see one of the basilica’s towering steeples over the city walls. As our driver headed under the archway, the White City came into view, and it was stunning. Although my travel friends and I uttered a few words of surprise and exuberance, we were all quite speechless. We had arrived at the Plaza de Armas of Arequipa, and it was breathtaking.
Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas was one of the prettiest Plazas in Peru that I had visited. The center park was landscaped meticulously with manicured shrubs, palm trees and stone walkways. Surrounding the plaza was the grand Arequipa Basilica on one side, and arched promenades along the others. The buildings were all in an aged white coloring, which mirrored layers of the city’s rich history.
The city of Arequipa was established in 1540 by Spanish lieutenant, Don Garcí Manuel de Carbajal, who died 12 years later in 1552. The city’s construction is a masterpiece of integrating both native and European building characteristics, and techniques all working together. With the knowledge of Indian masons, Criollo (People from Spanish decent), and colonial masters, Arequipa was brilliantly constructed. The city is known for its sturdy walls, archways, beautiful courtyards, and open spaces. There are also classic European Baroque features along the city’s facades.
The city of Arequipa was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the turn of the century in 2000; with the following Criterion: “Criterion (i): The ornamented architecture in the historical centre of Arequipa represents a masterpiece of the creative integration of European and native characteristics, crucial for the cultural expression of the entire region. Criterion (iv): The historical centre of Arequipa is an outstanding example of a colonial settlement, challenged by the natural conditions, the indigenous influences, the process of conquest and evangelization, as well as the spectacular nature of its setting.” – UNESCO Website
Streets of Arequipa
Monasterio de Santa Catalina – A few minute walk from the Plaza de Armas is the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, which was one of our highlights while exploring the city. Within the Monasterio is a little colorful city within the ‘White City’ of Arequipa, and was only opened to the public in 1970. The convent was constructed in 1579 and housed prominent women who never left the premises. It became the home of girls from aristocratic families to help educate and keep them safe. Some young ladies entered the convent with substantial dowries and servants in order to maintain their luxurious lifestyles.
Today, the elderly Dominican Nuns who remain have relocated to the northern corner of the convent. The rest of the property is open to the public and is a wonderous place to visit. The architecture, narrow walkways and colorful buildings of the convent represent a historic layer of Arequipa, how women used to live, and their family traditions.
For more information– The Monasterio de Santa Catalina of Arequipa | Discovering Peru
The city of Arequipa was unlike the other cities that I had visited in Peru, with its architectural significance built in local volcanic sillar rock. I do plan on returning on my own to visit more of the city that I had missed- the inside of the Basilica, Museo Santuarios Andinos, and more local dining. Until we meet again, Arequipa…
It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey…
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