Occupying all of the front of the Plaza de Armas of Arequipa, this beautiful ashlar construction is built in a neo-rennaissance style with two towers and a stylized Gothic vault. Inside, there is an organ by Loret de Belgica It also boasts a pulpit carved in wood by Boisini-Rigot from Lille (France), built in 1879.
It is one of the most representative monuments of Arequipa and one of the most expressive of neoclassical architecture in Peru. Its construction began in 1621 and was completed in 1656.
This architectural feat impresses with its massive size and invites you to discover its richly decorated interior with carvings in wood, marble from Carrara and splendid stalls. In 2001 a great earthquake seriously damaged the towers, so much that one hopelessly collapsed, bringing shock and grief to the terrified population. But Arequipa, faithful to its indomitable fighting spirit, quickly rebuilt the beautiful belltower.
La Iglesia y Complejo de la Compañía
Built by the Jesuits in the 17th century, this church has an impressive facade and was completed in 1698. Its wooden pulpit and its old vestry, known as the Sistine Chapel of Arequipa, were the result of anonymous work by indigenous artists who completed their work with colours, motives and spirit.
La Compañía was one of the first temples in Arequipa to be built in ashlar. Its Plateresque facade is sumptuous, colourful and with stylized ornamentations of branches, bunches of grapes, flowers, birds, angels and indigenous masks with long feather headdresses.
The temple itself is a two tiered structure , typical of European churches in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Other details of architectural interest include the vaults and the columns that hold the upper floor. Its interior is an abundance of luxury and ornamentation with gilded Baroque altars, a beautiful seventeenth century pulpit and more than 60 works of art from the Cusqueñan school.
La Compañía was originally erected in 1573 following the design of Gaspar Báez, but the religious structure could not withstand the earthquake of 1584, causing it to be rebuilt in the late seventeenth century.
The Convent of Santa Catalina de Siena
Founded on 2nd October 1580, the convent covers an area of 20,000 square metres and was built in the latter half of the sixteenth century. The convent, which is still inhabited by nuns, is a walled citadel with alleys, passages, stairs and small squares. It was a miniature city closed to the public until 1970, combining the colour of ashlar and other hues such as ochre, orange and indigo.
Santa Catalina de Siena is one of the most important colonial convents of Peru and the Americas. The story of its foundation relates back to Maria de Guzman, a distinguished woman and devout widow who, for 20 years, strived to found the monastery.
Maria was the first nun to live in the cells of “their convent”. In recognition of her tremendous efforts for the opening of Santa Catalina, the ecclesiastical authorities named her the prioress.
The great architectural work was built especially for the nuns. The design emulates a small town, with narrow labyrinthine streets.
Surrounded by tall, thick walls of ashlar, the convent is divided into two main housing structures, called “the old convent” and “the new convent”. Within the “City of Ashlar” there are precincts of various architectural styles and a valuable cultural legacy. Visitors can visit places of great beauty such as the Claustro de los Naranjos, el Patio del Silencio, el Claustro Mayor, la Plaza Zocodover and the ancient streets Cordova, Seville and Burgos.
The convent boasts a vast pinacotheca (art gallery) that holds many precious paintings from the Cusqueña and Quiteña schools of art, works that allow the visitor to discover the religious customs of the time. Walking through the cells, the kitchens and wash rooms, you can imagine the selfless existence that the nuns lived.
Since its founding, the convent has received both poor women and rich. It did not matter if you had money to be accepted into their cloisters, although in the colonial times, nuns who came from affluent families occupied larger cells.
In its long history, the cells of the convent have been inhabited by such virtuous women as Sister Ana de los Ángeles de Monteagudo (1604-1686). She was appointed Mother Prioress in 1648 and a number of miracles have been attributed to her during her life, and also after her death.
The process of canonisation of Sister Ana began the same year of her death and is still ongoing. She was also the first holy Arequipeñan.
Iglesia de San Agustín
This church is the most expressive of mixed Baroque architecture of the seventeenth century. Built from white sillar, it impresses with its many reliefs and bold illustrations. The interior is as equally sumptuous, boasting an extremely ornate dome, neoclassical altars, a tall altar with fine carvings and gold leaves, and several colonial paintings that decorate the central area of the church.
Built in 1575, San Agustín was practically destroyed by the strong earthquake of 1868. Reconstruction began in the nineteenth century, which scrupulously sought to rebuilt the original details.
Iglesia de San Francisco
With a mixed style with mudejar influences, the construction of this church was commissioned by Gaspar Báez in 1569. His original design consisted of a single nave and a domed sanctuary.
After the earthquake of 1687 the temple was remodeled and enlargened, becoming one of the largest constuctions made from ashlar. Several centuries later, in 1960, San Francisco was once again restored, in order to regain its original design. Inside this church of ashlar and bricks stands a Baroque pulpit with a splendid embossed silver altar decorated with precious stones and Baroque features.
Its colonial cloisters are part of a complex built by the Franciscan order which consists of a convent, a smaller temple of the Third Order of San Francisco, and a small square which is now the headquarters of a crafts centre. Inside the complex is also a grand library which holds more than 20,000 volumes and an interesting pinacotheca.
Iglesia y Convento de Santo Domingo
The Dominican order was the first to arrive in Arequipa and for this reason its temple is one of the oldest, although the devastating earthquakes of 1582 and 1604 seriously affected its structure. This situation would be repeated in 1958 and 1960, when the only thing left standing was its ornate lateral portal – the oldest in the city – and its belfry. Both were restored.
On the front facade of the church are elaborate carvings of vines and rosettes, flowers and trumpetting angels. Inside the church you can find many religious paintings and images of saints and virgins.
Convento e Iglesia de La Merced
Construction on this architectural ensemble began in 1548 and was completed in 1607. Built from ashlar – a typical Arequipeñan trait – this “House of God” stands out with its superb lateral portal with an image of the Virgen de las Mercedes carved from volcanic stone.
The interior boasts a Churrigueresque style altarpiece, as well as a chapter house with two sections: one with a vault of four parts, the other impacting with its seventeenth century gothic style.
Within this religious complex are several valuable paintings inspired by the Virgen de las Mercedes, and a great colonial library which is a genuine delight for old book lovers.
Convento La Recoleta
Its simple cloisters and different rooms show different architectural styles, from Romanesque to Gothic, a peculiarity that can be explained by the different reconstruction processes of this Franciscan jewel.
At present, its eleven rooms and four cloisters are rooms of the Archaeological and Anthropological museums of Natural History and Religious Art, the latter having a good collection of colonial art from the Cusqueñan and Arequipeñan schools of art. Another point of interest is its specialised religious library with over 20,000 volumes, including many from before the fifteenth century.
The convent was founded in 1648, but its doors only became open to the public in 1978. It is located in the Recoleta 117 area and is open on Monday to Saturday from 9:00am – 12:00pm and 15:00pm – 17:00pm.