Evidence of pre-Inca settlement by indigenous peoples from the Lake Titicaca area lead some scholars to think the Aymara people first named the city (ari means ‘peak’ and quipa means ‘lying behind’ in Aymara; hence, Arequipa is ‘the place lying behind the peak’ of El Misti). However, another oft-heard legend says that the fourth inca (king), Mayta Cápac, was traveling through the valley and became enchanted by it. He ordered his retinue to stop, saying, ‘Ari, quipay,’ which translates as ‘Yes, stay’ in Quechua (or an earlier variant of the language). The city was reestablished by the Spaniards on August 15, 1540, a date that is remembered with a weeklong fair.

Arequipa is built in an area highly prone to natural disasters; it was totally destroyed by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in 1600 and has since been rocked by major earthquakes in 1687, 1868, 1958, 1960 and in 2001. For this reason, many of the city’s buildings are built low for stability. Despite the disasters, many fetching historic structures survive.