Arequipa is located in the southwestern part of the country and is the second biggest city of Peru, with a population of almost one million. It is also the capital of the department of Arequipa, 663.8 miles (1,068km) from Lima. The city sits at an altitude of 2,325 metres above sea level in a mountainous desert in the western Andes, at the foot of El Misti volcano.
El Misti is currently inactive, but had strong eruptions between the years 1438 and 1471. It is located between two small volcanoes, Chachani “The Bottom” and Picchu Picchu “The Top”. Both names come from the Quechua language from the Inca Empire. Arequipa has more than 80 volcanoes, most of which can be found in the Valley of the Volcanoes. Unfortunately the city was built on a very earthquake prone area, and was completely destroyed by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions during the 1600’s.
There is archaeological evidence of the Aymaras from the pre Inca period in Lake Titicaca. During the 15th century, the region occupied by the Aymaras was conquered by the Incas and served as an important provider of agricultural products for the Inca Empire. The Aymara named the city ‘ARI’ which means ‘peak’ and ‘QUIPA’, to lie behind. Therefore, the name Arequipa means ‘The place that lies behind the peak (Misti)’.
The modern city of Arequipa was founded on August 15th, 1540 by Agric Manuel de Carvajal, an emissary of the conqueror Francisco Pizarro. A year later King Charles V of Spain gave it the rank of city and the coat of arms that still remains.
On July 21st 1821, Don José de San Martin declared Peru’s independence from the Spanish colony, and during the 19th century Arequipa housed many Peruvian nationalists. During this period Arequipa became known across the continent as a land of leaders and for the courage of the Arequipeñan rebels.
Its colonial buildings were erected in ashlar (pearl coloured volcanic rock) which was used with abundance throughout the city, giving it the nickname of ‘The White City’. The historic centre was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in December 2000 due to its architecture and historical integrity. “The historic centre of Arequipa is an example of ornamental architecture, representing a masterpiece of the European creative coalition and native characteristics.” “A colonial village challenged by the conditions of nature, indigenous influence, the process of conquest and evangelization as well as spectacular natural scenery.”
Generally considered the second most beautiful city in Peru after Cusco, Arequipa has attractions for all kinds of tourists, many of whom come to visit the Colca Canyon, the high volcanoes or just to walk around the colonial city.
The White City of Arequipa has become the centre of economic growth in the south and is one of the most important milk producers in the country. This has allowed Arequipa to develop and grow in population and change over the years. In the mid-twentieth century there was an influx of immigration from the highlands and mountain areas, and now Arequipa’s population is a mixture of Spanish, indigenous and mixed.