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Santa Catalina Monastery: the colonial jewel of Arequipa

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Santa Catalina Monastery: the colonial jewel of Arequipa

Just a few steps from Arequipa's Plaza de Armas is the Monastery of Santa Catalina, an enigmatic place that surprises not only for its colorful colonial architecture but also for the secrets that it has hidden behind its walls for several centuries. Read below to find out everything you need to know before visiting it.


History of the Monastery of Santa Catalina

The history of the Monastery of Santa Catalina dates back to the 16th century. When the Spanish were already settled in Peru, Francisco de Toledo visited the city of Arequipa and listened to the wishes of its inhabitants, who asked for the creation of a place where the nuns could carry out their work and have the religious life they wanted. Thus, the viceroy ordered the construction of a large monastery without knowing that, years later, it would become one of the most important in the country.


On September 10, 1579, when the city of Arequipa had not even turned 40 years since its foundation, the Monastery of Santa Catalina was inaugurated, an authentic jewel of colonial architecture that remains standing to this day (despite all the earthquakes that affected the building throughout its history) and whose streets you can explore on foot!


The first nuns who lived here came from different parts of the country and different social classes: they were Creoles, mestizos, and even daughters of curacas, the political leaders of the Inca Empire, but they all shared one main characteristic: they had the same religious devotion.


Thus, the Monastery of Santa Catalina housed for years hundreds of nuns who lived with practically no connection to the outside until, in 1970, they decided to open it to the public so that all tourists and citizens of Arequipa could discover and enjoy this enigmatic place. .


Since then, the Monastery of Santa Catalina has become a mandatory stop for tourists arriving in the White City and, for a few years now, this place has been, together with the Colca Canyon, the most visited tourist destination in Arequipa.


What will you find in the Monastery of Santa Catalina?

The Monastery of Santa Catalina falls in love with everyone who comes to visit it, since it is an unusual and very striking construction. In its more than 20,000 square meters (yes, you read that correctly, the monastery has more than 20,000 square meters!), you will find up to 22 rooms (both open and closed), such as the Patio del Silencio, the Claustro de los Naranjos or the Main Cloister, which during the monastery's heyday was used for different purposes and which is now accessible to all audiences, as if it were an open-air museum.


One of the most beautiful characteristics of the monastery's architecture is the origin of the materials with which its walls were built. To build this place, the workers used the famous white and pink ashlars of the city of Arequipa, coming from two of its main volcanoes: Chachani and Misti. Thus, the construction techniques brought by the Spanish were mixed with the typical stone of the place to create an authentic work of art of the colonial architecture of Peru.


Walking through the streets of the Monastery of Santa Catalina you will feel as if you have gone back several centuries in time. The silence that occupies each of its corners, the secrets that its walls seem to keep, the bright colors of its walls, its imperfect arches and vaults... everything you see around you will make you want to stay in this place for many hours.


Also, you should know that some cloistered nuns still live in the north wing of the monastery, so it is not unusual to come across a nun during a visit to this place.


4 reasons to visit the Monastery of Santa Catalina in Arequipa


  1. The architecture of the Santa Catalina Monastery

It is considered as a small city, since it has streets that evoke Spanish cities. In total there are 6 these streets: Córdoba, Málaga, Toledo, Granada, Sevilla and Burgos. Although of course, there are other passageways that connect this entire citadel.


One of the main attractions is the charm of the volumes in terms of solidity and plasticity. It is enough to see the arches resting on the pillars and the dome-shaped constructions with their covers that give certain features of strength to the enclosure in general.


Something to highlight about its constructions is that it has spaces where different species of plants and flowers have been kept. This gives it a picturesque ornament that contrasts with the orange walls. The streets that connect all the dependencies of this place are also very attractive.


  1. The rooms inside the Monastery of Santa Catalina in Arequipa

After the 391 years that this citadel remained, enclosed under its four meter high walls. The year 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of its opening to the public. Therefore, since 1970, constant maintenance has been granted to all the locations that make up the Monastery of Santa Catalina. When you visit the monastery you can visit the following rooms:


  1. a) The Courtyard of Silence

This space was dedicated to meditation, reflection. A place where you could read in silence and pray, but all in perfect silence. It is entered through a portal with the inscriptions SILENCE.


  1. b) Major Cloister

It was built between the years 1715 and 1723, to its left are 5 confessionals that have finishes that demonstrate the required privacy. On the other sides you can find paintings that served as an example for the preparation, catechization and teaching of the new women who entered.


  1. c) Laundry

Its construction dates back to the 1770s, when ditches could be found on the streets of Arequipa. In one of them we found 20 half jars. Clay containers that served as rafts. The water entered through a central channel that was diverted to each one of the jars only by placing a stone to divert the water. The discarded water fell through an underground channel that carried the water to the river.


  1. d) Kitchen

The particular thing about this unit is that it can take the visitor back in time. Although because of the roof it has, it is believed that its main destination was going to be a chapel, since it has the shape of a dome. This kitchen worked with coal, firewood and other fuels. You can see the utensils used at that time.


  1. The church

Although this belongs to one of the dependencies. It is necessary to talk about it independently because of all the details that we can find. Positioning it as one of the reasons for the Monastery of Santa Catalina.


It is a quite beautiful church and also has a fairly large structure. It has many renovations. The main altar has quite an accomplished sculptural work worthy of admiration.


You can find different rooms where the nuns can make their confessions. It also has an altar dedicated to Sor Ana de los Ángeles Monteagudo. Inside this church you can also find an old organ.


  1. The art museum or pinacoteca.

Around 400 paintings can be found. These pieces were restored because the artists who made them were mostly from the viceroyalty of Peru. All these paintings have a high artistic and historical value.


The main works are exhibited in a detailed space that enhances the brilliance of these paintings. They are two huge rooms with a vaulted ceiling where they are distributed. The ashlar wall is preserved as part of the entire structure of the monastery.


It is important to note that the Santa Catalina Museum is considered one of the 7 best museums in Arequipa. In Arequipa you can find different museums that house different pieces, all of them of great artistic and historical value.


How to get to the Monastery of Santa Catalina?

The Monastery of Santa Catalina is located just a few blocks from the imposing Plaza de Armas of the city, so you can walk from any point in the historic center of Arequipa. At Denomades we have a City Tour in Arequipa that includes a guided visit to the monastery, as well as other tourist attractions in the city.


If you want to get there on your own, you just have to find Santa Catalina street, which is located next to the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa. In just four blocks you will be in the famous monastery.


Hours, prices and other information you should know

Hours: the Monastery of Santa Catalina is open every day of the year with the exception of Good Friday, December 25 and January 1. Hours are Thursday through Monday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. m. to 5:00 p.m. m. and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. m. to 8 p.m. m.


Prices to enter the Monastery of Santa Catalina

Entrance Prices
General admission adults 40 PEN
Foreigners from 7 to 21 years old 20 PEN (with corresponding identification)
Peruvian university students 12 PEN (with corresponding identification)
Peruvian seniors 12 PEN (with corresponding identification)
Peruvian schoolchildren or minors  6 PEN
Promotional day for Peruvians Adults

10 PEN and school children 5 PEN

(The last Sunday of each month – Present ID)


Guide: the price of the entrance to the Monastery of Santa Catalina only includes access, but if you want to have a more complete experience and learn more about the history of this magical place, do not hesitate to hire the services of a guide. The price of the guided tour is S/ 20 (approximately 6 dollars) additional to the entrance and the duration of the tour is around two hours.


Best time to visit the Monastery of Santa Catalina: the city of Arequipa has a fairly stable climate, with moderate rainy seasons between January and March, so a visit to the monastery can be done without any problems throughout the year.


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