Arequipa, Peru’s second-largest city, is known as La Ciudad Blanca (the White City) for the pearly volcanic stone used in its marvelous 16th- and 17th-century buildings, including the elaborate Monasterio de Santa Catalina. It was built in 1579, or 40 years after the city itself was found.
The early town leaders wanted their own monastery of nuns. Viceroy Francisco Toledo approved their request and granted the license to found a private monastery for the nuns of the Order of Saint Catherine of Siena.
It also attracted a number of women as novices who were criollas and daughters of curacas, Indian chieftains. Other women entered the monastery to live as lay persons apart from the world.
The monastery has been open to the public since 1970.