Between 1570 and the middle of the seventeenth century, the port of Arica was the main commercial shipping port for mercury and silver to and from Potosi, Bolivia. The dozens of villages along the route between the interior and the coast thrived due to the development of this economic corridor. Today, some 80 small adobe churches survive in the settlements along this passage. They are notable for displaying a convergence of indigenous and Spanish influences in architecture and art, which, when used today to describe art and architecture from this region and period, is often referred to as Andean Baroque. Esquiña village is an example of one of the communities in this region. The church of San Pedro de Esquiña, dating back to the early seventeenth century, is of significant cultural value and is a strong example of Andean Baroque. Today the church continues to be a central place of worship and serves as a center of preservation of Andean culture. However, San Pedro de Esquiña, like many other churches in the Arica y Parinacota region, is at risk. The minimal employment opportunities means that most young villagers leave for work elsewhere, resulting in a dearth of skilled people able to maintain the churches. In addition, the remoteness of the villages—some are still best reached by mule or on foot—has hampered conservation efforts and local economic development.
2010 World Monuments Watch
The 2010 World Monuments Watch included a nomination for 30 churches in Arica and Parinacota that were seen as emblematic of the religious and cultural history of the region based on their historical significance and consistency in style and construction systems. Their placement on the Watch resulted in a project developed with the Fundación Altiplano Monseñor Salas Valdés. In cooperation with WMF, the Fundación Altiplano has completed the restoration of the Esquiña church, badly damaged during a 2005 earthquake. In conjunction with the restoration was the implementation of training workshops for locals, designed to create employment opportunities in the heritage tourism sector for this depressed area in addition to developing the skills necessary for the continued maintenance of the church. The restoration of the Esquiña church focused on the benefits of traditional construction skills and materials, as well as research to reinforce the structure with a system developed by the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, based on the use of geo-synthetic mesh. In June 2011, Lena McKnight, Jianca Reyes Martinez, and DuVaughn Wilson—students from the Youth Build program of the Abyssinian Development Corporation of Harlem, New York—traveled to Arica to participate in the Training Program in Conservation of Earthen Architecture organized by Fundación Altiplano. Their work concentrated on the restoration of the adobe church and community museum at Esquiňa. In 2012, the Butler Conservation Fund, through WMF, supported the rehabilitation of the parish house in the town of Belén as a crafts training office and tourism facility. This project is part of the “Viva Belén!” restoration and sustainable development initiative. In 2013, WMF supported the “VII Encuentro Internacional sobre Barroco: Migraciones y Rutas,” organized by Fundación Altiplano and Fundación Visión Cultural, which took place in Arica with the participation of 160 international experts including astronomers, musicians, architects, art historians, conservators, and artists. The event featured a photo exhibit of WMF projects around the world titled “Maravillas del Patrimonio Mundial” at the Casa Bolognesi, a historic house belonging to the local Peruvian consulate.
The Arica Parinacota churches are representative the fusion of European culture and beliefs with those of pre-Colombian autochthonous populations. The remoteness of these towns contributed to the overall preservation of the structures, although in many cases the same isolation contributed to a loss of technical skills as populations shifted over the generations. Furthermore, ever since the free port of Arica was built in the 1960s, there has been steady emigration toward urban centers, which provides new economic and employment opportunities. This project offers an opportunity to preserve these sites as well as to promote the conservation and use of adobe, a traditional and sustainable material, and boost local economies as the heritage tourism sector develops.