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Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa, Peru

Online Producer Alejandro Leal visits a luxurious South American monastery

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Flanking Santa Catalina street in the heart of colonial downtown Arequipa, the second most populous city in Peru, lie tall sillar walls. Taking their name from the pearly white volcanic rock they're made off, the walls enclose a city-within-a-city occupying an entire city block, built in the 16th century as a cloistered convent for Spanish nuns during colonial times.

Founded by a wealthy widow, the Santa Catalina Monastery accepted women of high-class Spanish families. As such, these nuns lived with lavish privileges, each having their own servant or slave and their own private living quarters. They devoted their time to baking pastries and breads, among other things.

At one point the monastery housed 450 nuns but was forced to reform by Pope Pius IX in 1871 when most servants and slaves were released. Damaged by earthquakes in 1960, the monastery was opened to the public after nearly 400 years since its construction. The nuns relocated to an adjacent, smaller building where they still lead a cloistered life.

Today the monastery serves as a living museum, its walls restored and painted with vibrant colors, the original living quarters, kitchens, baths, all preserved with furniture and tools. It's open to the public and hosts various art exhibitions. The nun's baked goods are also sold at a café inside.

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