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Ashlar, the shaper of the White City

The city of Arequipa, located in the south of Peru, is known as the “White City”. This distinctive was given due to its colonial constructions of ashlar, a “volcanic rock” that looks like a porous rock. This rock is the product of a mass of igneous material with gas that was expelled with great forces from the volcano “Chachani”, which together with the volcano “Misti” and “Pichupichu” border the city of Arequipa.

There are different types of ashlar: White ashlar, brownish white ashlar, bluish white, yellowish white, red and pink ashlar. The first is the most used and abundant. This is extracted from quarries, which can be found generally on hillsides where it was deposited and solidified after volcanic eruptions.

Ashlar extraction
The ashlar extraction process is one of the main cultural attractions of the “Ruta turística del Sillar” in the district of Cerro Colorado, Arequipa. You will be able to observe the traditional process of extraction and carving of ashlar in an artisan way, using ancestral techniques that master stonemasons have learned from generation to generation.

First, the sillar cutter master selects the primary block that he wants to extract from the quarry in order to detach it from it. Then, once the block of sillar is on the ground, the master calculates how many blocks can be divided. Then, they locate the cut points and fraction them. Finally, he outlines the block and eliminates any imperfections that it may have.

If you wish to visit the “Ruta Turística del Sillar”, we recommend you to take the following:

  • Comfortable clothes for walks
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunblock
  • Bottled water

The tour is a shared service, has an approximate price of USD17 per person, and lasts for 4 hours.

Constructions with ashlar
Ashlar can be cut into various shapes and sizes during construction, due to its flexibility to fine chisel carving. There are two types of ashlar, the fine grain and the more porous. The first one is used in openings, lintels and covers, while the second is used for foundations and walls.

Churches, convents and mansions were built with ashlar in the Hispanic Era. The ashlar allows a fine finish of facades, vaults, capitals, columns, domes and arches. Due to the flexibility of the carving, figures of saints and virgins were made together with themes of American flora and fauna united with heraldic symbols.

You can not miss the carved arches of the cloister of the Compañía de Jesús, in General Moran Street, the Church of Cayma and the cover of the Casa del Moral, they are really impressive!

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