23 October 2012
Monastery of Santa Catalina, Arequipa, Peru
The 16th-century convent is one of the main highlights of the city of Arequipa in Peru – and maybe one of the most fascinating religious buildings in the country. The convent complex is in fact its own little village spread on 20,000 square metres, with its twisting streets and lovely cloisters as nuns evolved from "novice" (during 4 years) to confirmed stages of dedication to their celibate life of "silencio" and prayer.
The convent was founded in 1580 and selection was tough (usually the second child of elite Spanish families would enter religious service). Luckily for the nuns (at least during three centuries until 1871 when a – more pious – sister changed it all), life was far from being experience of chaste poverty: each nun would have up to four slaves (usually black) and would host parties with musicians (I don't insinuate anything else... do I?), having their own private cells and kitchen which all can be visited today.
Walking along Cordoba, Toledo, Burgos and Sevilla streets in the complex, it felt as being in Spain, if not for the 5,000+ metre-high mountains and volcano overlooking the monastery. Admire the peaceful cloisters and colourful passageways, a refreshing break from the city's heat and bustling life.