15 February 2020

Peru, 11 Years Later: Monastery of Santa Catalina de Siena

After spending time in Puno and Lake Titicaca, it was time to move on. I boarded a bus that took me across the mountains, and 6 hours later, I landed in Arequipa. This was a sexy city, with a great historical core, and plenty of things to check out. The first thing I visited was the Monastery of Santa Catalina de Siena, a very large monastic complex right in the middle of the city, occupying a full city block. And once you're inside, it feels like a very different place, where you're shielded from the chaos of the city outside.

This is a large complex, and I took a few hours to explore it thoroughly.

Upon entry, the first thing that struck me was the red paint on the corridors and courtyards. It's very colourful, and this colour motif would be present in various areas of the monastic complex. This colour is prominent on the walls, the arches, and hallways, and many other public areas.

There's also some areas with a very bright blue.

According to history, this monastery was established by a rich widow. Families sent their second daughters to the monastery (tradition indicated that second sons and daughters would be destined to a life in the church), together with a rich dowry. At some point, there were about 400 nuns who lived in the complex.

The monastery has public and private areas. The pictures I have shown so far are the public and common areas of the complex. In the first couple of photos above, you see the narrow corridors together with the privacy screens that are found in one of the external facing buildings. This is how the nuns communicated with the outside world at that time. I suppose there are people who definitely didn't like the outside world that they would opt to be cloistered in a place like this. And of course, since this is a religious institution, the common areas are devoted to religious activities.

There are plenty of little flats that served as the living quarters of the nuns living here. All of them are small and modest, though there is slight variation with respect to how it is furnished. In any case, this is not opulent living. People here came to do only one thing: be pious. I probably would have been bored.

Of course, since there are people living here 24/7, then there are also functional areas in the complex. There were plenty of kitchens. Almost every little flat had their own kitchen, though there was also a very large and massive industrial kitchen in the middle of the complex.

And finally, there was an area where people can do laundry.

I enjoyed my visit, and I definitely recommend this to anyone who happens to be visiting Arequipa.

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