Arequipa is known as the “White City”or Ciudad Blanca for the white walls of many of its colonial buildings. The famous white walls are made of white ashlar or sillar, a volcanic stone that lies at the feet of many of its volcanoes such as Mount Misti, Mount Chanchani and Mount Pichu Pichu. Sillar can be carved easily and many buildings have elaborate decorations giving Arequipa a distinct character. The use of sillar is reflected in the integration of European and Amerindian cultures in the ornamented architecture in the historic center of the city, the most representative buildings are its religious monuments and casonas. The historic center of Arequipa is part of UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage List.
The city of Arequipa is the capital of the department of Arequipa and it is Peru’s second largest city with a population of almost one million. The city is located at an altitude of 2,335m or 7,661f above sea level. Arequipa is surrounded by more than 80 volcanoes which makes it an earthquake prone area. During the 17th century it was destroyed by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Before the Spanish conquered the Inca Empire Arequipa was populated by pre-Inca tribes related to the Tiwanaku Culture. The modern city of Arequipa was founded on August 15, 1540 by Spanish Garci Manuel de Carbajal.
If you visit Arequipa you cannot help but notice El Misti volcano under whose feet the city of Arequipa was built. Arequipa is the third most visited city in Peru after Lima and Cusco and every year more than one million tourists visit the city.
As in many Spanish founded cities, the city center core is formed by the Plaza de Armas or Plaza Mayor. Most historic buildings are located within walking distance.
Plaza de Armas or Plaza Mayor
Plaza de Armas is the main public open space in Arequipa serving as the center of urban and evening activities in Arequipa. In the middle of the plaza there is an elegant bronze water fountain with a sculpture at the top called “Tuturutu”. The plaza is surrounded on the north side by the cathedral, and on the other three sides by arcaded colonial buildings housing the municipality and several cafes and restaurants.
Plaza de Armas
Address: Paseo de la Catedral
Located on the north side of the Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral has two impressive towers. It was founded by the Spanish conquistadores in 1612 and rebuilt several times due to earthquake damage in 1666, 1668, 1687, 1784, 1868 and 2001; in 1844 it was damaged by fire.
Santa Catalina Monastery
301 Santa Catalina Street
Santa Catalina official website
The monastery was built in 1580 financed by Maria de Guzman to house nuns from the Dominican order. At its height it housed about 500 people, one third of them nuns and the rest were servants. The nuns were daughters of rich aristocratic Spanish families who by tradition offered their second son or daughter to the service of god. Santa Catalina is the most outstanding colonial construction in Arequipa, the religious citadel covers over 20,000 sq-meters. In 1970 it opened its doors to the public after 400 years as a cloister.
Santa Catalina Convent
Church of La Compañia
Address: Alvarez Thomas Street
Located at one corner of the Plaza de Armas, the church was built by the Society of Jesus. The church and its cloisters are the most representative architectural construction of the Baroque Mestizo period built from sillar.
Church of La Compañia
Santo Domingo Church and Convent
Address: Santo Domingo and Rivero Streets.
Founded by the Dominicans, Santo Domingo is the first and oldest church and convent in Arequipa. Despite a series of earthquakes in 1582, 1604, 1958 and 1960, it is still standing. The church went through reconstruction after each earthquake. Its elaborate carving has been restored to its original beauty.
Church and Convent of the Lady of Mercy – La Merced
Address: Intersection of La Merced and Tristán Streets
Like most religious buildings in Arequipa, La Merced was constructed with sillar or white ashlar. Its construction was finished in 1548. The main attractions in this church are its elaborate altarpiece, paintings inspired by the Virgin of Mercy and its colonial library.
Church of San Agustin
Address: San Agustin and Bolivar Streets
San Agustin Church was built in the Baroque style dating back to 1575. It was virtually destroyed in the earthquake of 1868 and subsequently reconstructed following the original design and materials. Although during renovations the interior suffered transformations adding neoclassical ornamentation.
Church of San Francisco
Address: First block Zela Street.
The San Francisco complex contains the San Francisco Church, a convent and a smaller church called the Third Order. The church was originally built in 1569 going through several reconstructions and remodeling during the years due to earthquake damage. The Spanish Baroque architecture can be observed outside and inside the church.
Barrio of San Lazaro
Barrio San Lazaro is the oldest neighborhood in Arequipa and is located five blocks away from Plaza de Armas. This is a picturesque quarter of narrow streets, small plazas and large casonas.
The streets of San Lazaro
One of the deepest canyons in the world at a depth of 10,725 feet, it is located 100 miles from Arequipa City. The Canyon is one of the last refuges of the endangered Andean condor.