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Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Arequipa, Peru - 6th September 2009 - 6Too much of itchy feet to get exploring had me out the door early afternoon, to get to the monastery I’ve heard so much about.

Took a more indirect route, for a look down side streets at local life and the colonial architecture.  Even though Peru is quite dirty by US standards, the buildings look like they will be here forever and the colonial carving in the stone is both intricate, beautiful and sadly overlooked by many people. There is so much you could do here to make the stonework more prominent and it’s a shame that it’s not; those interested in such things need only to look above eye-level to get lost in the 17th century culture injected.

The monastery hits you, as soon as you get to any road that terminates by it. Solid fortress-like high walls block the surrounding view and castle-like wooden doors mark the only deviance in the bleached stone. This building has been closed off until 1971 and a portion of it is still closed off to this day.

The 30 soles it cost to get in hopefully benefits the upkeep of this fabulous building and if visiting and you want a guided tour, English is available for a nominal charge.

It’s easy to underestimate the size of a monastery and this place is huge inside. Taking into consideration it’s not even fully accessible, that makes it even more impressive. It took a full two hours to get around and that was pushing it; I could have spent at least a day here, easily.

The two-tone colours are so strong and I’ve been wondering for the last day, if the area uses a specific plant or extract for the primary colours I’ve seen. Whatever the reason, it makes for a very stiking, hard, (and very beautiful) image.  The rooms are as basic as you’d expect, although I was surprised to find some wonderfully carved and upholstered furniture in a few of the rooms. Extras aside, most rooms just consist of a small prison-style bed in an alcove, a cross and a stone oven, with eating area.

Sanitation is something that has fascinated me in this area because, depiste garbage being dumped everywhere on the streets, the old city plumbing is still visible and not so concealed within this building. Perfectly masoned channels at some point carried water (and no doubt other deposits), although I couldn’t see where they terminated.

As with most religious buildings, the art is incredible. It’s a shame that it takes a restriction and fear to paint such incredible pieces, some of which are wonderfully disturbing. Art is not restricted to paintings, either – there are murals in most of the communal areas, covering the entire length of the upper walls. Some of it is decorative art of fruits or plants and others include full representations of biblical events, along with some associated text at its base.

Climbing to the central area gifts you with an incredible view of not only central Arequipa, but also surrounding mountain ranges and El Misti herself. I’m constantly thinking how much this looks like images of the Middle East I’ve seen and Braunda informs me that there are a lot of similarities with Spain from when she was there.  With the public areas closing for the day and the Sun getting low, it was time to head back to the hotel and a short rest to freshen up before dinner.

Arequipa only has a couple of larger tourist attractions but they’re making me dizzy with wonderment. Buildings built from love or fear, for worship or religious practice for me, are one of the few man-made things that will still be beautiful, long after humans have gone.