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Peru Travel: Andahuaylillas, America’s Sistine Chapel

Peru Travel: Andahuaylillas, America’s Sistine Chapel

The small church in Andahuaylillas has been dubbed America’s Sistine Chapel because its interior decoration, which includes fabulous murals and paintings, recalls its Vatican equivalent. Located about 45 km from Cusco, a visit to Andahuaylillas can be added to a Cusco or Peru vacation package.

Formally named San Pedro de Andahuaylillas, this church is typical of churches built by Spanish colonists and missionaries in the southern Andean region in order to facilitate evangelization efforts among the indigenous populations resident in the area. The town itself was founded in 1572 by the viceroy Francisco de Toledo and its purpose was to gather the natives, who lived scattered across the countryside, into concentrated communities. This process and the towns were known as reducciones.

Built at the turn of the 16thcentury, this church is on the main plaza, like many other churches throughout Latin America. The remains of Inca walls in the interior indicate that the church might have been built on top of a huaca, or an Inca sacred place, a common conquest practice. The exterior architecture of the church is simple enough and provides a sharp contrast to the stunning wealth of decorative detail housed inside.

In the interior of Andahuaylillas church, visitors are treated to an archetypal example of mestizo baroque style. Almost every square inch is covered in ornamentation. Gilded altars rise from floor to ceiling and saints decked out in rich finery inhabit various nooks. Gilded rafters are lined with fruit and floral motifs. Paintings in gilded frames line the upper walls of the church. In keeping with the baroque style, details abound and the effect is that of an overgrown garden layered with gold. The style is termed mestizo because many of the images, painted by local artists, are specific to the Andean region and are significant only in the local context.

Painters whose works can be found in Andahuyalillas include: Luis de Ria?�o, who was born in Lima but moved to Cusco and was active in the 17thcentury; Diego Quispe Tito, an artist born in San Sebastian, just outside Cusco; and anonymous contributions from artists trained in the Escuela Cusque?�a, or Cusco School of Art. These artists received training from Spanish and Italian priests who were themselves schooled in Europeans styles of art. However, local artists, especially those from the Cusco school, infused the religious-themed paintings with Andean symbols and meanings.

Indeed, aside from the abundance of golden detail, the most interesting thing about Andahuaylillas is the specific imagery in the paintings and murals. Instructed to paint specific religious scenes, artists with no direct knowledge of the European world adapted religious representations to make sense in the local context. The result is fascinating – misplaced and incongruous images, for example a 15thcentury castle in a biblical scene.

Don’t miss the mural on the interior wall as you enter. It represents the 2 possible paths in life. The first is the easy path, a wide road that welcomes all with simple temptations and then constricts into hell. The second starts as a narrow path starts, difficult to stay on, but those who persist on it are rewarded with an easier track later on and are welcomed into paradise

How to Get There

Andahuaylillas can be reached from Cusco by hiring a private transport or taking a public bus and can be added to a Cusco vacation package. For those traveling to or coming from Puno, tour buses frequently include a stop in Andahuaylillas.