Palacio Nazarenas sits at the heart of Cuzco, at the point where two ceremonial Inca thoroughfares once met, 3 blocks uphill from the Plaza de Armas, Cuzco’s main square. Today this strategic location is one of the city’s most delightful, peaceful squares. According to the 16th century historian, El Inca, Garcilasco de la Vega, the family home of the last great emperor, Huayna Capac, once stood somewhere in this area which was known as Amaru Qata (Serpent Slope).
It is thought that Palacio Nazarenas may stand on this imperial site. And certainly the Spanish colonial building in which we stayed (now the hotel) does feature elements that reflect its ancient name. The massive coat-of-arms carved above the main entrance (see the photograph, above) sports a pair of mythical beasts with serpent tails, while numerous stones about the walls feature small snakes in high relief (see the last photograph in this post). Many of these stones were taken from former Inca buildings and reused to create this early colonial residence. For centuries, up until today, Cuzco townspeople have referred to the building as La Casa de las Sierpes (House of Snakes).
In 1757 Palacio Nazarenas became a beaterio, a type of “second rung” convent for daughters of the native Spanish-descended aristocracy.
The 45 barefoot Nazarenes who came to reside here welcomed the public to masses while they remained sequestered behind screened-off enclosures.
Many frescoes dating from the early convent period remain sheltered under the courtyard patio’s arcades.
In 1961 the Nazarenes joined the Carmelite nuns, dissolving their order into the larger organization; in 1977 they moved to a smaller quarters and historic building was rented to a Peruvian government agency. In 1998 a lease was signed with Peru Hotels who transferred the lease in 1999 to Orient-Express Hotels, Ltd. (later renamed Belmond).
The design and planning phase of converting the convent into a luxury hotel lasted until 2009, followed by restoration and construction. The first guests were welcomed to Palacio Nazarenas in June 2012.
After our arrival, we had a late luncheon at the Senzo Restaurant at the hotel. Impeccably fresh ingredients, simply prepared and delicious!
Note the serpents carved into the 15th century Inca stone blocks that form the foundation wall of the former convent, now the Palacio Nazarenas Hotel (photograph, below).