We take the colors of this city out
An Inca mummy, three snowy volcanoes and a cathedral that, according to legend, was built for another city. There are many reasons to visit Arequipa, the White City of Peru.
Why “The White City”? Arequipa’s appellation comes from three volcanoes: Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu. These volcanoes produced great quantities of ashlar, a white volcanic stone used to built (almost) all of the city’s facades. Two of these volcanoes -Misti and Chachani- are still potentially active.
With its snowy peaks and imposing height, the three mountains complement the panoramic view of Arequipa offered by the Yanahuara Viewpoint, one of the main attractions of the city. Its arches were also built in ashlar, thus closing the (volcanic) circle.
The beautiful (and probably misplaced) Cathedral
The ashlar shines proudly in the colonial mansions and in the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa. It is said its beauty is due to the fact it was designed for another more important city, but that due to a confusion with the sending of the plans, it ended up being built in the White City.
After suffering several earthquakes and fires and being rebuilt on many occasions, the Cathedral’s neoclassical style surprises everyone who visits the Main Square of Arequipa. The nineteenth-century French explorer, Alfred Grandidier, defined it as “the most important monument built in Latin America after independence.”
The Main Square, World Heritage Site
A cross marked the construction site of the Cathedral on the day the city was founded, August 15, 1540, and placed it right in its heart, the Main Square.
Surrounded by portals, this square continues to be a source of pride for Arequipa people, who saw Unesco recognize its historic center as World Heritage Site in 2000. Among the main reasons was the ashlar, of course, but also the techniques used to construct the buildings, arcades and vaults that surround the square. They exemplify the fusion between the ways of working of Spaniards, natives and criollos.
City of museums and hotels
Many of these colonial buildings have become museums and hotels. An example is the Select and Premium options of Casa Andina. Both are located in the vicinity of the main city square. From the terrace of the Casa Andina Select Arequipa Plaza hotel you get unique views of the historic center, while Casa Andina Premium Arequipa offers a historic and stately atmosphere.
You can also visit the Goyeneche House and the Casa del Moral, which will allow you to appreciate colonial furniture, works of art and, above all, the architectural development of the city throughout history. The first was built in 1588 and belonged to the Goyeneche family. The second, from the 18th century, receives its name from the tree that grows in the main courtyard.
Vargas Llosa’s birthouse and The Lady of Ampato
Another of the essential houses to visit is Mario Vargas Llosa’s, where an interactive exhibition covers the life of the Nobel Prize in Literature in his birth house.
There is also the Museum of the Andean Sanctuaries of the UCSM. Although it does not stand out for its colonial architecture, is the home of Mummy Juanita, “the Lady of Ampato”, sacrificed by the Incas more than 500 years ago, according to the popular belief. It is considered one of the best-preserved mummies on the planet, due to the Ampato volcano’s ice, which protected it at 6288 m.a.s.l. until its discovery.
Santa Catalina Monastery, a touch of color
Actually, not everything is white in the White City. Santa Catalina Monastery, a small walled citadel that welcomed the daughters of the richest families in the city, boasts reddish walls, bluish arches and green gardens in its many cloisters.
The Monastery is one of the most important religious monuments in Arequipa. It was built in 1580 and houses many treasures of Peruvian painting in its art gallery. There are in display works from the Cusqueña School and other styles developed during the Peruvian Viceroyalty.
Cuisine at the foot of the volcano
The cuisine of Arequipa is also contrary to its label, colorful and appetizing, with dishes such as stuffed rocoto, shrimp soup – with milk, eggs and yellow potatoes – or frozen cheese.
The picanterías are the traditional restaurants of this part of Peru. In these restaurants, the spicy, the chicha – fermented drink typical of the Andes– and the wood stove are not missing. Here everything is cooked over low heat, like the ashlar. As Arequipa people say, “you are not born in vain at the foot of a volcano”.