There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of colonial sights worth seeing in Peru. Probably the most fascinating of them all, however, is the Convent of Santa Catalina in Arequipa. It’s almost more of a citadel than a convent, though some nuns still live on the grounds. It is a gigantic place with stairways leading to nowhere—mainly because most of the second floor was destroyed by the many earthquakes that have hit the city.
It is easy to spend all day wandering through the streets of the convent and in and out of the nun’s cells (such as the one illustrated below). More than anything else, it reminds me of the miniature cityscapes of the Anasazi ruins at Mesa Verde in Colorado, except the convent seems to go on forever.
I started seeing the convent with a tour guide. That served only to whet my appetite. After a long lunch break eating rocoto relleno at a second floor restaurant behind the cathedral, I returned to the convent and spent two more hours on my own.
It was endlessly amazing: passages that led off in every direction, walls painted red for public areas and blue for private (or at least previously private) areas. It was as if the convent were decorated by professional artists, with flowers and old furniture and cooking utensils available everywhere.
As I write these words, I find myself wanting to continue exploring the convent for endless hours, looking to turn that corner where I will find cloistered Dominican nuns (of the same order that taught me at Saint Henry’s School in Cleveland, Ohio) praying for my salvation.