Arequipa, Peru – The Holy Week starts

The young woman’s voice sounds clear and high, she sings heart-rendingly. Unfortunately we can’t say that of the following bishop’s sermon. He recites his psalms monotonously, listlessly and quietly. As the first believers start to doze we leave the cathedral. We accidentally burst into the mass, lured by the angel’s voice and the boredom of the endless delay of the procession. It was said to start at 4 p.m., at 5 nothing goes on, and at last at 5:30, as the light dwindles, first activities show. Then we sit drinking beer on one of the restaurant’s balconies around the plaza with view from the first row long since.

The Semana Santa, the Holy Week, is in the entire Latin America the most important feast of the whole year. Depending on the region people make holiday, celebrate, drink abundantly, or they go to church according to the regulations and walk in processions. The Easter festivities in Arequipa are regarded as especially splendid. The parades already start the weekend before Easter. The bishop tortures his flocks a bit longer, and then the soldier corps may enter the cathedral. The 28 soldiers come out with wavering steps, a larger-than-life statue of Jesus on a wooden tableau on their shoulders that looks very heavy. Then an even larger group of believers carry the Holy Virgin of Chapi, the city’s patron saint. Music from a loudspeaker or a moaning singer provide the dramatic background.

Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city with nearly a million inhabitants and offers a beautiful, tightly structured historic centre. The colonial buildings around the central Plaza de Armas with fountain and old stand of palm trees are made from light-grey Sillar, a volcanic rock that brought Arequipa the byname “White City”. One side of the plaza is occupied by the large cathedral, the other three are covered by the arcades where the municipality, shops and restaurants are located.

The city is towered over by some mighty snow-covered volcanoes: the perfectly cone-shaped El Misti, Arequipa’s 5,822 m high landmark, the higher and more rugged Chachani to the left and the lower Pichu Pichu to the right. The perfect postcard motif is taken from the balcony of the municipality (ask there for permit), where El Misti appears exactly between the cathedral’s two towers.

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