Arequipa is normally dubbed the White City as it is built with a white volcanic rock called Sillar. The central historic district is a UNESCO world heritage site and it feels as though we’ve stepped into a small village in Europe. We are only spending two days so we can resupply and also visit Monastario de Santa Catalina.
Monastario de Santa Catalina
Founded in 1580, Santa Catalina Convent is a city within a city and occupying 20,000 sqm center. With colorful orange, white and blue walls, the entire monastery is preserved to show what kind of life the nuns lived in the past 500 or so years. Every corner is a photo opportunity and it’s tall walls protect the area from the modern bustling life outside.
It’s hard to describe the feel and entire monastery, but the pictures should give you a small idea of how beautiful it is inside. Steve and I aren’t big museum buffs, but learning about how the nuns used to live was interesting.
The nuns lived a very sheltered day to day life, never leaving the monastery once they’ve committed and even being buried within the property. If they fell ill, they used their own medical concoctions and didn’t go to local clinics. The 200 nuns who used to live there would only communicate with outside people through a small window and move items back and forth via a small window (like a lazy susan). They often sold baked goods to the public and use the money to maintaining and improving their city.
The original stones used to be all white (the original volcanic Sillar rock common in this region), but they painted the “streets” and regions to be more distinguished. Yes, there are streets within the monastery – that’s how big it is.
There are still nuns who live within the walls of the monastery, but they still maintain minimal contact with outsiders. They walk about freely before and after the property is open to the public, but retreat to their private quarters during opening hours. Apparently, they still talk through a window to outsiders.
The way they’ve built the city for their belief and lifestyle is quite impressive. Over the past 500 years, they’ve maintained faith in their way of life and built a small sanctuary within a city protected from outside influence. It’s peaceful and beautiful.
If you would like to learn more about the monastery and its history, this is a good website we read – History and Evolution of the Santa Catalina Monastery.