Peru - Arequipa Region - Convent


Andrys Basten, photos taken 5/17-18, 1997

Larger view is 66k
Village scene This shot was taken from our van. Animals roam freely in the highlands of Peru, and the rural people dress now as they did 450 years ago (beautifully, even for hard work in the highlands). This differs from city dress where clothes are more often worn for tourist cameras, for a fee.

About half the population is officially considered living at poverty level and jobs are scarce. Selling clothes, art work, jewelry, or food is often the only means of income, and while tourists can tire of being pressured to buy, it's worth remembering this.

We're back in the City of Arequipa, called "The White City," built from the white sillar rock tossed out by one of the three volcanos that overlook it. The name is also inspired by the fact that the sun shines there every single day, a sunlit city almost lost in the middle of a severe mountain range.

It's, however, the 2nd largest urban area in Peru and now prosperous enough that smog from the cars mixing with mountain street sand adds, in the morning, an unfortunate brownish cast to what must have been beautiful early light not too long ago. The City of Arequipa is considered the intellectual capital of modern Peru.

Arequipa's much-visited convent (48k)
Santa Catalina 'street' Covering a square city block, the Santa Catalina 'Monastery' began, in the 16th century, as a convent for the daughters of rich families. At one time, there were over 450 nuns living in it, and in the early days the nuns all had their own servants and held regular parties, enjoying English carpets, silk curtains, porcelain plates, damask tablecloths, silver cutlery, and lace sheets, until a crackdown brought a more severe lifestyle.

The convent is a city in itself, with streets, gardens, and pools inside. The nuns were hidden from view by curtains or other barriers during visits by family or friends, but life there was not likely too grim, as the courtyards and private areas look relatively comfy and spacious.

Street Sign (64k)
Santa Catalina sign
Just one of many serene scenes in the convent streets.

Thanks to Jose Cornejo
for the translation from the old Spanish:

"Blessed is the Sacred Sacrament of the Altar and
the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady,
conceived without blemish or debt
from the original sin. Amen.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph."


  A back courtyard scene (69k)
A back courtyard This is a scene from the courtyard in the back of an individual living area. Almost all have open areas with staircases, places to hold plants, and some enjoy views. There are still a few nuns living here, but they're quartered in a smaller area now, away from the main sections visited daily.

    The convent wasn't opened to the public until 1970, after 400 years behind silent walls.


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