The White City
Rooted in the Andean traditions of the Altiplano, Arequipa is located in the south-western part of the country and is the second largest city of Peru. Sitting at 2,335 meters above sea level (7,661 feet), Arequipa is surrounded by three volcanoes: the cone-shaped El Misti (5,822 meters or 19,100 feet), the always snow capped Chachani (6,075 meters or 19,900 feet) and Picchu Picchu (5,425 meters 17,800 feet). The three volcanoes range in elevation from just under 18,000 feet to approximately 20,000.
The name Arequipa comes from the phrase “Ari, quepay”, in the Quechua language, which means “Yes, stay”; while in the Aymara language, the word Arequipa is derived from the words “Ari” and “Kipa”, which together translate to “near the mountain”.
The modern city of Arequipa was founded on August 15, 1540 by Manuel de Carbajal, an emissary of the conqueror Francisco Pizarro. A year later, Arequipa received the rank of city from Charles V of Spain and the coat of arms that remains to this day.
The city of Arequipa was a bastion of nationalism during Peru’s struggle for independence from Spain in the early 19th century. Later, it served as a rallying point during the War of the Pacific with Chile (1879–1883).
The historic centre of Arequipa was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in December 2000 due to its architecture and historical integrity. Influenced by both the Andalusian and Spanish Colonial styles, its architecture is a fusion between native Andean characteristics and European style. Its colonial buildings were constructed using sillar (a whitish or pearl-coloured volcanic rock), giving Arequipa its nickname the “White City” – the name by which Arequipa is often referred to.
The most beautiful example of the use of sillar is seen in the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa, located in the “Plaza de Armas” (the main square). The cathedral is considered one of Peru’s most unusual and famous colonial cathedrals. Construction began in 1540 but the existing structure has a neoclassical style, and was completed in 1848. The three naves of the cathedral are supported by ten columns, holding up 18 vaults –which are connected. Within the cathedral there are 13 cedar altars which are covered with gold. Arequipa’s colonial style is also reflected in the Santa Catalina Monastery, Claustro de la Compañia, Goyeneche Palace, Casa de Moral, and the distinctive Yanahuara district.
Sabandia, Paucarpata, Tiabaya and Socosani are districts where the typical campiña of Arequipa (countryside) can be appreciated. Also, the two deepest canyons in the world, Colca Canyon (an ideal spot for observing magnificent Andean condors) and the Cothahuasi Canyon are located in the Arequipa region.
Arequipa is also one of the most vital cultural centres in Peru. From this city, numerous famous figures have emerged, such as Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in literature.
Arequipa is also the alpaca capital of the world. The finest alpaca and baby alpaca yarns are produced here.
Finally, Arequipa is renowned for its cuisine: rocoto relleno (stuffed spicy bell pepper), cuy chatado (roasted guinea pig), and lechon al horno (baked baby pork) are among the coveted dishes served locally.
Weekend nights in Arequipa are lively, with clubs filling up around midnight. Much of the nightlife is centred in the old quarter, while a more subdued crowd can be found in the many bars and restaurants situated downtown.