Behind its heavy wooden doors and completely isolated from the external vicissitudes, lived the nuns at the Monastery of St. Catherine of Siena, a religious citadel founded during the reign of Viceroy Francisco Toledo, at the request of council, in 1579.
Located in the historic center of Arequipa, a city founded by the Spanish in 1540, would be Doña Maria de Guzman, widow of Diego Hernández de Mendoza, the first settler and prioress of Saint Catherine, who after the death of her husband decided to retreat to the monastery, to which she gave all of her possessions. From 1580, she would allow the entry of other women -Creole, mestizo and daughters of noble families- to take the habits and by the mid-eighteenth century, the citadel was known to be the home of 300 nuns, who could not leave the monastery or be seen and could only talk to their families -and maidens of service- with a permission and under supervision.
In 1970, 391 years after its foundation, the Monastery of Santa Catalina opened its doors to unveil its secrets and mysteries. Currently, 26 religious live there between mothers and novices.
The architectural style is mainly colonial monastery, but, unlike other colonial centers in this part of Latin America, of mixed nature, resulting from the fusion of Spanish and native elements. The charm of this citadel lies in the strength and plasticity of their volumes, and beauty, that teachers and masons achieved in the architecture of the enclosures.
Other attractions of the monastery are the splendid works of art, such as its impressive baroque altar, its important art gallery -which contains paintings of the Cusco School-, a series of paintings depicting the life of St. Catherine of Siena, and the murals -some still in restoration- that can be seen all over the place.