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Arequipa

This city is Peru’s second largest and has a population of approximately 700,000 people. From the city you can see three volcanoes rising from the desert. Due to extensive agriculture in the area, Arequipa is an oasis of green in the surrounding desert. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December of 2000, this city has a beautiful center and many colonial houses and churches. The locals consider it a country of their own, and it is even possible to get an Arequipeno passport.
The Convent of Santa Catalina is one of the main tourist attractions in Arequipa, and one of the most interesting colonial buildings in Peru. A part of the complex is still used by nuns and cannot be visited. The convent is extensive, and is often described as a city within a city. The convent was founded in 1579 and the history of the convent is fascinating. Many of the nuns that lived in Santa Catalina failed to live up to the vows of poverty that are usual. In fact, coming from wealthy Spanish families, many of the nuns came with up to four servants to accompany them. The dowry that had to be given by the most important nuns, who wore black veils, was 2,400 silver coins, equivalent to $50,000 today. The nuns also had to bring 25 listed items, including a statue, a painting, a lamp and clothes. In the case of the wealthiest nuns, these included the finest English china and wonderful silk curtains and rugs. The largest cells have a large main room for the nun’s residence, a room for the servants, a kitchen, a terrace and even a guest room, which was used by other nuns in Santa Catalina after a party. When a nun died, the cells were sold to other nuns entering the convent.
The second biggest attraction in Arequipa is the Museo Santuarios Andinos. This museum houses a mummy discovered in September of 1995 by Dr. Johan Reinhard and Dr. Antonio Chavez. These archaeologists discovered the tomb of a child on top of the Ampato volcano in the Colca Canyon. The girl, aged around 13 at the time of her death, was sacrificed and buried by the Incas as an appeasement offering to the Apus, the mountain gods. Although dozens of child sacrifices have been found throughout the Andes, the body found at the top of Ampato was particularly important. This child, called Juanita, is one of the best-preserved bodies in existence, and has provided a lot of information on the ritual of Inca sacrifice. The tomb and body had been encased in ice for approximately 500 years until the eruption of the nearby Sabancay Volcano dislodged her and lead to the discovery of her tomb. Further excavations at the top of Ampato uncovered three other child mummies of both sexes, and several other mummies have been discovered on other important mountains in the area. In addition to the bodies discovered in the tombs, many important artifacts were found.
Some of the churches worth visiting in Arequipa include San Augastín, Santo Domingo, and La Merced all of which have fine carved sillar facades. All of these churches have been substantially rebuilt after earthquakes over the centuries.
Arequipa also has some fine colonial houses. These used to be the residences of wealthy Spaniards, but now are generally used as offices. The Casa Del Moral’s interior has vaulted ceilings typical of Arequipa. The Fundo El Fierro was originally a girls' school and then a prison. It is now used as a crafts fair. Off the Plaza San Francisco is the Museo Histórico Regional, with information on the history of Arequipa.
The Archaeological Museum of the Universidad Nacional de San Augustin is a museum with a fine display of archaeological objects and ceramics, as well as many colonial items.
A good time to visit Arequipa or the area would be on May 1. Every year, pilgrims from all over Peru go to the small town of Chapi to pray to a highly venerated saint, the Virgen de Chapi, who is credited with miraculous powers.

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