Arequipa , the Spanish and an Inca Sacrifice!


At a height of 2350m above sea level, this was our chance to acclimatise to the altitude before heading for loftier heights! We spent several pleasant days in a very nice climate – warm in the day time and cold at night (but not too cold!) touring the environs and some of the museums                                                        

                                                        Our hotel in Arequipa - in a lovely colonial building

The origin of the name Ari Quipa (behind the peak) is said to be from the Aymara people (pre-inca indigenous settlers from Lake Titicaca area). The Spaniards re-founded the city in 1540 but since then it has been victim of several earthquakes – the most recent in 2001. The locals certainly regard El Misti (5822m) as the guardian of Arequipa . There are 2 other major volcanoes overlooking Arequipa- Chachani (6075m – and known as the wife of El Misti ) and Pichu Pichu (5571m - literally mountain mountain!)                                                                                                                                                          

          El Misit volcano                                               Chachani and Pichu Pichu                                                

Arequipa is a charming place – also know as the white city because of the colour of the volcanic rock (sillar) used in the colonial buildings. The Plaza de Armas is a great place to sit and have an ice cream and watch the world go by in the perfectly manicured gardens (the only down side is the pigeons). It is surrounded on 3 sides by balconied colonnades and the 4th side is taken up by the cathedral which stretches the length of the plaza.

Some of the great colonial buildings are now occupied by banks, hotels and museums – all beautifully restored and very solid looking. Taking a bus tour of the local area, we were introduced to various exotic fruits which are grown on the pre-Incan terraces. Most of the work is done by hand and the produce taken to the local markets.

At the local market in Arequipa - a fabulous variety of local fruit – so much better than the stuff we get in Panama! Apparently there are over 2000 varieties of potato – although we only sampled a few.

One of the Colonial mansions (La Mansion del Fundador) we visited was once owned by the founder of Arequipa – Garci Manuel de Carbajal and has now been completely restored with original paintings and furniture – quite a bit of it we noted from England! An interesting insight to how the Spanish lived!

English furniture in the mansion              Iglesa San Juan Batista                       Matt at the mirador in Yanahuara

The tour took us to the small prosperous neighbourhood of Yanahuara where on the small plaza is the beautifully carved Iglesa San Juan Batista dating from 1750. The mirador gave us fabulous views over Arequipa and the volcanoes.

  Woman in traditional local dress                  View from Mirador                       New development around Arequipa

Another fascinating insight into Spanish colonial life was a visit to the Monasterio Misterioso – a monastery founded by a rich Spanish widow in 1580. It covers a large area and is almost a town in itself with streets (with names such as Cordova Street and Sevilla Street) and passageways, several cloisters, a chapel, an art gallery, laundry and even a market place where the nuns would gather to exchange handicrafts, soaps etc. The life of the nuns was originally one of comfort and sociability – all the nuns came from rich, upper class families (traditionally the second daughter of a wealthy family would become a nun). They had slaves and servants and were allowed to entertain friends and generally live in the manner in which they had been accustomed to in their previous lives! They lived in their own houses (the size depended on the wealth of the family). We weren't able to photograph many of the lavish gifts brought to them by their families but these did include Spode tea services, Delftware and beautifully crafted furniture and pieces of artwork. The lavish living however was brought to an abrupt halt in 1871 with the arrival of a strict Dominican nun sent by Pope Pius IX– needless to say all the property of the nuns became the property of the monastery. The slaves and servants were freed and the sisters lived a very cloistered life until it was opened to the public in 1970. There are about 3 dozen nuns still living there today (away from the public eye!)

Entrance to the cloisters                               Clay Jar Laundry                       Kitchen of one of the houses                         

Interesting architecture – the monastery               Water Filter                                Orange Tree Cloister

has been built with differing styles each time parts have been damaged by an earthquake

Tableau of the last supper –                                Stone Fountain                             Seville Street

each of the senior nuns would have one of these statues in her ‘cell'


After all the visiting we had done we just about had the energy for one more museum.............         

Juanita – the Ice Maiden

Our introduction to one of the gorier of the Inca traditions began with a visit to the Museo Santury where the story of Inca sacrifices is told. The Incas believed that the mountains and volcanoes were Gods which would need appeasing if they erupted. This appeasement took the form of human sacrifices – usually children between 8 and 14 years old. The visit included a film documenting the discovery of an almost perfectly preserved 12 - 14 year old girl and a re-enactment of the sacrifice. The girl (Juanita) was found in 1995 by a local climber on the snow covered volcano Nevado Ampato (6310m) to the north west of Arequipa . Following an eruption of a nearby volcano, the ash had melted some of the snow and dislodged the tomb. Various artifacts were found near the summit and the body further down where it had rolled after the tomb had been dislodged. The mummy had been perfectly preserved by the icy temperatures for around 500 years. The body was in a foetal position (the Inca's believed this would help pass into the after life) and has a blow to the head. The re-enactment told of how some of the children of wealthy families would be disciplined to anticipate being sacrificed and regarded it as a great honour! They walked to their burial sites in full knowledge of what was going to happen to them. Now we're talking about climbing up a mountain to around 6000 meters in a robe and sandals made out of llama skin (they used the neck for the soles as it's the strongest) – no mean feat in itself! Put that together with the fact that they knew that when they got to the top they would be killed - surely they must have been drugged – almost certainly would have been chewing on coca leaves (Peruvian Red Bull) to keep them going and possibly when nearer the top they would have been given some other form of drug to eventually knock them unconscious. They were killed by a blow to the head and then put into the tomb with gifts and treasures to see them through to the other life. We're not talking one or two here but in total about 2 dozen children have so far been found at the top of various Andean mountains! Unfortunately we were unable to take photos in the museum of any of the artifacts. Certainly the highlight was the actual mummy of Juanita – which is kept in a carefully controlled glass walled freezer. Her body is almost perfectly preserved – hair and skin as well. There is a discoloration to her face – apparently where it was exposed to the sun when dislodged from the tomb. The clothes which she wears are reproductions of garments she would have been buried in and are made by the local weavers. Now tell that story to your teenage runabouts!


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