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Posted by on Feb 22, 2012 in Explore, Peru, South America

The Colourful City-Within-A-City: Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa, Peru

The Colourful City-Within-A-City: Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa, Peru

Old? Check.   History? Check.    Coloruful? Check.     This is a place for me.

 This monastery is the reason I decided to come to Arequipa, Peru in the first place. It was no on my route I had ‘planned’ – I actually ended up doing a “Z” path from Puno-Arequipa-Cuzco-Ica. But, this un-planned destination ended up being a highlight of my adventures in Peru.

In 1579 the Santa Catalina de Siena Convent was founded; Less than 40 years after the Spanish arrived in the city of Arequipa. Since its inception, women from diverse social backgrounds have entered the convent to serve as cloistered nuns, never again to return to their homes and families.

The Convent is located within the historic centre of Arequipa and was restored after sustaining damage in the 1958 & 1960 earthquakes. The Convent was opened to the public on the 430th anniversary of the city’s founding in 1540 – August 15th, 1970.

The monastery is constructed from sillar, a white volcanic stone quarried locally and painted blue and orange within. The convent is considered the most important and impressive colonial structure in the city. Since Peru is known for its earthquakes, these continual earthquakes and tremors have forced changes in the structure of the monastery and thus is has some singular architectural characteristics.

The nuns live in private cells within the convent where they can lead isolated lives, protected by high walls, sheltering themselves from the surrounding city. Within the walls of the convent, a mixture of colonial Spanish and native architectural styles have been preserved.

One of the nuns who lived in the convent was Sister Ana de Los Angeles Monteagudo. She lived in the Convent until her death in 1686, and in 1985 was beatified by Pope John Paul II. Various miracles and predictions are attributed to her, and she maintains a strong cult following. Her cell and personal effects still exist inside the convent and demonstrate how she led her life.

The Convent has many rooms to spend the day exploring. So I did just that. From the instant you walk in – you can only make left turns – this will help you to see the entire Monastery without feeling like you’re walking in circles. I spent 5 hours inside the monastery only making left turns. It is huge, but not a labyrinth.

Tours came and went, and I just sat on stairs, and in doorways, watching the hustle and bustle within the monastery. I do love religious places. I am not religious – but the architecture is incredible. The Monastery has parlors, workrooms, cells, chapels, a cemetery, a laundry zone, and many other rooms to explore.

Then while exploring the Art Gallery, I looked outside, and saw a wedding party go by. What a beautiful place for a wedding.

It was an incredible day of colours and beauty. I like it here.