Santa Catalina Monastery
Santa Catalina Monastery is a must-visit in Arequipa. It is the biggest convent in the world. It's like a city in a city with streets inside the monastery having their own street names. It was founded in 1579 (39 years after the founding of Arequipa). Rich families used to send their second daughters to the monastery as a way to ensure a place in heaven for the families when they turn 13/14. Not every family can afford that because the admission required a dowery of 2,000 silver coins (~$15K in today's money). The daughters, after two years of novice training, become nuns and are never allowed to leave the monastery again. Each nun gets a spacious apartment inside the convent which typically includes a bedroom, living room, kitchen, and even a servant's room (families sent slaves as servants with their daughters to the convent). At peak, the monastery had 80 apartments that can accommodate 200 nuns (some apartments have 2 or 3 bedrooms). Today, only ~20 apartments survived the multiple earthquakes in Arequipa and there are still ~15 nuns who voluntarily live there (dowery is no longer required to become a nun). The monastery is painted in bright orange and bright blue colors, adorned with ornaments, flowers, and wall paintings inside. The well-preserved apartments give a good sense of how the nuns lived in the past.