UNESCO considered that "the ornamental architecture in the historic centre of Arequipa is a masterly example of the creative integration of European and native characteristics vital to the cultural expression of the entire region... the historic centre of Arequipa is an exceptional example of a colonial settlement characterized by natural conditions, indigenous influences, the conquest and evangelization and the spectacular nature of its surroundings".
This recognition fulfilled an old dream of the Arequipeños for which they had waited until May 1999. Called together by the mayor of Arequipa, philosopher Juan Manuel Guillen, a handful of the city's admirers (seven architects. two historians, a restoration expert and a poet) decided to submit the application and create a Municipal Office for the Historic Centre and Monuments, a key organisation in the process charged with looking after Arequipa's architectural monuments. The local authority's lack of cash was more than made up for by enthusiasm and professionalism. The deciding fact was the assistance of the Spanish Aid Agency, which enabled a plan to be drawn up and a technical office to be established so that the city finally achieved the distinction it shares with Cusco and Lima. (In Peru, it should be said, the archaeological sites of Chavin, Nazca and Chan Chan have also been declared "world heritage sites", and whilst the Huascaran and Manu national parks have been designated "natural heritage sites" and Machu Picchu and the Rio Abiseo are "world and natural heritage sites".
But let us return to the reasons why the historic centre has been awarded this title - which, like all titles also confers a duty Experts in Latin American architecture of the last few hundred years have repeatedly stressed the importance of the city when the mestiz baroque period was at its height. The city's surroundings - a picturesque and oasis-like valley overlooked by three imposing mountains- the European and native traditions, the local volcanic stone called sillar and a succession of earthquakes, have shaped an unmistakeable architectural style that influenced the entire surrounding region.
The city is home to a number of monuments worthy of inclusion in any anthology of American viceregal architecture: the church and cloisters of La Compañia, the convent of Santa Catalina, the San Francisco complex, the Tristan del Pozo, La Moneda and Moral mansions. To these must be added churches and monasteries such as Santo Domingo, San Agustin, Santa Rosa, La Merced and Santa Teresa; great houses such as the Chaves de la Rosa or Goyeneche mansions and something like five hundred town houses incorporating the styles of the colonial and republican eras, which give life to the main urban areas. Among these streets and avenues are Puente Grau and Villa Iba, San Francisco; Santa Catalina, La Merced and Puente Bolognesi, which converge on the Main Square with its symmetrical colonnades and the cathedral facade, considered the most important example of a form of neoclassical mestizo of the 19th Century.
The home of a large and hard-working colonial middle class of Spanish origin; cradle of a quirky mestizo style, expressed particularly in its architecture and gastronomy, ground zero for revolutions and uprisings that have marked the republican development of Peru, Arequipa today shows the signs of rapid inward migration that is giving it a new personality. The essential values of rebellion and hard work, austerity and civic pride nevertheless appear to be present in the city's new inhabitants and give the historic centre, in the process of rebirth, a vigorous spiritual life.
Afflicted by crisis, the arequipeños are determined to make the city a centre for tourism and a provider of quality educational and cultural services. The historic centre, obviously, has a central role to play. The local authority has already started to hide the spider's web of wiring that drapes the main streets of the city, widen the pavements, replace the cobbles and lay drains. Urban renewal has begun and an ambitious plan to restore the historic centre and its surroundings is under way with the financial support of international organizations. Although there is a great deal to do, the aim is to make the old centre, founded by the conquistadors on the 15th August 1,540, a place not only worth visiting, but worth living in and, indeed worth loving. Because, as the famous consul Firmin said - beneath another volcano - "you cannot live unless you love".