Sat behind an antique wooden desk swamped by tin soldiers, china teacups and an old phonograph, Raúl Tovar Mendoza barely glanced at me as I walked in to El Anticuario, one of the oldest antiques stores in Arequipa.
Inside this maze of artifacts, where even the air seems fragile and ancient, rest antiquities that date back hundreds of years. Books, paintings, sculptures and swords vie for attention among suits of armor, model ships and chandeliers. It’s hard to know where to look. There are clocks and religious retablos on the walls; old radios sat on tables with French-scroll feet; a statue of the Archangel Michael with his sword raised, ready to smite an old wooden cash register from the 1940s.
Raúl Tovar sat there amidst his collection, lost in concentration as he reattached a wheel onto a red model car. Now in his mid-60s, he started learning the antiques trade at 18. Today, his collection contains more than 5,000 pieces, the majority housed in El Anticuario (facebook.com/elanticuarioaqp), the store he runs at Ugarte 213, just two blocks from Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas. The store is easy enough to spot: large letters spell out ANTIQUES above the door of the classic sillar stone building, and a suit of armor stands guard outside on the street.
Leaving the owner to his work, I wound my way up a narrow spiral staircase to the second floor. Here, below the boveda, or stone arched, ceiling sat even more antiques, including marble plinths, an old folding camera, model ships and a row of halberds.
Pricewise, most items in El Anticuario are prohibitively expensive — and I guess most tourists won’t be shopping for a four-foot statue of Mary or a musket while traveling around Peru. But El Anticuario, like other antiques stores in the historic center of Arequipa (there are a few), is well worth a browse. If you’re a history buff, it’s easy to spend an hour rummaging through the eclectic collection on display — and who knows, you might just find a bargain…