The San Lázaro neighborhood breaks the rigorous order in the layout of the streets of the historic center of Arequipa. This can be explained by the fact that there was an old hamlet that existed before the city founded by the Spanish in 1540.

History records the presence of those who returned from the failed attempt to conquer Chile, a journey that cost the lives of several expedition members and subjected them to the harshest punishments, particularly for what it represented to cross the Atacama desert.

Once in this valley, a small group of Spaniards decide to stay in it, so they do not continue their march to Cusco, but instead decide to live protected by the hospitality of a group of natives called ‘yarabayas’, who built their homes in what today we call San Lázaro.

This fact, possibly, is the one that originated the belief that Arequipa was initially founded in that place, but the truth — according to what certain documents, such as the Foundation Act — show, is that this has been historically ruled out.

Cradle of identity

What is certain is that it was the first place in which some Spaniards settled in a relatively stable manner, and that is why it constitutes a ‘cradle of the mestizo cultural identity of Arequipa’.

We can imagine those Spaniards —with no possibility of subduing the natives due to their small number and the precarious physical and moral state in which they arrived from the south— learning in their daily coexistence with the natives of the place some terms of the local language and knowing new products, uses, customs and knowledge that they were incorporating into their knowledge and even into their belief system.

On the other hand, we can also imagine those Yarabayas trying to satisfy their curiosity for some of those novel artifacts that these enigmatic foreigners brought, such as a stirrup or a helmet, perhaps.

In other words, both Spaniards and natives were ceasing to be, in the strict sense, to begin to be nothing less than Arequipa, the former precisely, since cultural identity is not a racial issue, but primarily a cultural one.

Focus of faith

San Lázaro was also a first source of irradiation of the faith, since it is known that some priests also settled there, who had the difficult mission of catechizing the indigenous people of the area.

There, a religious building was also built that, even though it was just a simple hermitage, has the merit of having been the first in Arequipa. The latter is particularly special for those of us who are part of that university that, due to a circumstance —which we believe is not by chance— has its main headquarters within this important historical place.


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