One of the most impressive buildings in Cochabamba is the Convent of Santa Teresa, on the corner of Ecuador and Aguirre. This still-active convent of Carmelite nuns was established in 1726, and is now open to the public for tours. The nuns live separated from the rest of humanity, hidden away from prying eyes in sections of the temple which are strictly off-limits..
The tour was reminiscent of our visit to the Santa Teresa convent in Potosí. It’s the same religious order, following the same insanely strict regulation of no visual contact with the outside world, even family members. Back in the day, young girls were sent to the convent in accordance with the wishes of their fathers. It was customary for the first daughter to marry, and the second daughter to ensure the family’s ticket to heaven by pledging her life to the church. Hardcore.
The opportunity to sacrifice a young girl’s future was considered a privilege, and the family had to pay a sizable dowry. For this reason, the convent was awash in wealth. The most spectacular piece was a massive gold-plated altar in the upper floor. Life inside the order was completely segregated, based on race and money. The richest girls of European descent wore black hoods and spent their days praying and sewing. The nuns of indigenous heritage were little more than slaves, dedicated to the comfort of the richer sisters.
The tour took us onto the convent’s roof, noteworthy for its unique shape. When the church was built, the architects intended it to have a poly-lobular shape, like a flower. The technology necessary for such innovation didn’t yet exist and the project was abandoned, but only after the walls had been constructed. From the strangely shaped roof, the view over Cochabamba was magnificent.
We didn’t visit a lot of monuments during our time in Cochabamba, but our tour of the Templo de Santa Teresa was an excellent way to spend a quiet hour. Check it out if you have the chance.