Friday, August 12, 2011

More on Arequipa

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Arequipa is in the southern Peruvian Andes, at an altitude of 7661 ft (2335 m) above sea level.  It is Peru's second largest city and a hub of political and economic life in the south of the country.  

Plaza de Armas

In the past, Arequipa competed with Lima for clout as Arequipeños resisted the centralization of economic and political life in the capital.    Though Arequipa is a friendly, welcoming city, arequipeños are a proud lot and not given to suffer indignities lightly.  Over the years they have even staged a number of uprisings and rebellions against limeño authority.  In fact, in the airport and in souvenir shops around town one can buy a "passport" from the "Independent Republic of Arequipa" - offered with tongue very-much-in-cheek, of course.  Today, Arequipa is currently one of the fastest-growing cities in the country and, as trade with Chile and smuggling into Bolivia have increased, its economic clout is once again on the rise.

The city of Arequipa -which is the capital of the department of the same name- lies at the foot of Misti volcano, and is flanked on the north by Chachani volcano, and on the south by Pichu Pichu volcano.  A bit to the north lie a number of other volcanoes -Ampato, Sabancaya, Coropuna, etc..  Some of them -including Misti- remain active though -mostly- quiet.

Misti volcano

Being in a volcanic zone, it is not surprising that Arequipa is prone to earthquakes, having been almost utterly destroyed in 1582 and, again, in the 1780s.   More recently, it experienced strong quakes in the 1950s and in 2001 a quake with a 7+ rating on the Richter scale severely damaged the cathedral and hundreds of homes and historical buildings.

While there, I remembered my mom having mentioned that one thing she found charming about Arequipa was that, with a dose of great common sense, the stones of the Plaza de Armas' archways had all been numbered so they could be more easily put back in place after being brought down by quakes.

I looked up and, sure enough, there were the numbers!

Of course, all that the volcanoes bring is not just woe.   Not only do they add beauty to the landscape and water from their snow packs, but they have also literally provided arequipenos with the building blocks for their city.

For centuries, arequipenos have been using sillar, a local white volcanic stone, as building material.   Sillar has become a signature of the city, and has given Arequipa its nickname of the "White City".

Arequipa's cathedral

Visiting Arequipa it was easy to see why so many consider it their favorite city in Peru.  The streets are clean and traffic is relatively light, the food is great - as are the people- and the clean, dry mountain air and frequent sunshine make a marked contrast to Lima's winter damp and overcast.   And, in the background, there are always those beautiful, snowcapped volcanoes ...

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