Stroll the cobbled streets of Cusco in eastward strides from the central plaza and you’ll arrive at Casa San Blas, a charming boutique hotel. The restored 18th century colonial building that houses the hotel creates a welcoming ambiance for its guests who enjoy highly customized service. Yet, it’s the beautiful, handmade textiles on display and splashes of Andean design throughout the hotel that bring the local culture to life and make a stay at Casa San Blas truly unique. Since its 2003 opening, Casa San Blas has been committed to showcasing the artwork of Peruvian textiles and educating its guests about the traditional weaving practices of the Andean people.
Casa San Blas Hotel
Casa San Blas, rooting itself in Andean tradition
The cultural significance of Andean textiles for the boutique hotel dates back to family traditions.
Delia Vidal de Milla was a pioneer in helping weaving become recognized as an artform by the universities of Cusco. She wrote her master’s thesis on the art of indigenous textiles in 1937 and her ongoing research took her to local communities to learn about the symbolism woven into each textile. In later years, Delia played an instrumental role in establishing textile artistry as a school subject in Cusco and helped commercialized the tradition when tourism hit the city in the 1950s.
Delia’s continued efforts to preserve, support, and teach others about weaving traditions are echoed at the Casa San Blas Boutique today where her son, Carlos Milla, is the general manager .
The hotel has a textile interpretation center that allows guests to understand the weaving process. A series of photographs, drawings, and informative layouts walk a spectator through the weaving process – from yarn to textile – and details the cultural symbolism associated with their creation. Written explanations that accompany the displays are inscribed in English and Spanish.
“You learn as a guest of our hotel,” Carlos said. “You learn that these people respect nature, that they practice a millennium old tradition, and that they are retrieving the ancient ways that were getting lost.”
The rooms at Casa San Blas are decorated to mirror a specific theme woven into each textile design. These different themes are represented as symbols that honor important aspects of daily life and nature in the Andean region, including water, various animals, corn, etc.
Within Cusco, Casa San Blas works with the Center of Traditional Textiles, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation and revival of Peruvian textiles. The organization oversees a range of activities devoted to renewing the rich heritage of textile designs and complex weaving techniques in collaboration with small villages throughout the Sacred Valley.
“We work very closely with the Centro de Textiles,” Carlos said. “They do very, very good work with several communities, mainly from the area of Chinchero. But they’re spreading and getting weavers from Lares, a town from the other side of the Sacred Valley.”
Quality Andean textiles are for sale at Casa San Blas Boutique.
Photo by Rachael Taylor/Peru For Less
Guests of Casa San Blas and other travelers can visit the Center of Traditional Textiles’ museum shop located on 603 Avenida el Sol in Cusco. Quality textiles are sold here and sometimes it’s possible to observe weaving demonstrations. Some of the textiles at Casa San Blas are also for sale, but those displayed in each of the rooms cannot be purchased.
Peruvian weaving, a lot more than yarn
Weaving in the Andes of Peru is a tradition that dates back over 2,000 years.
Under Peru’s textile umbrella, there are thousands of techniques, styles, and layouts associated with Peruvian weaving. Interestingly, each village practices its own unique patterns and traditions.
A visit to Casa San Blas sheds light on the artful creation of Andean textiles.
Today, Peruvian textiles are woven from sheep, alpaca and llama wool. Vicuna wool is used in some of the products, but due to its precious nature and subsequent cost, more alpaca is used to create the textiles. Some of the natural products used by the female weavers to dye the threads are on display in the reception area of Casa San Blas.
The weavers meditate on a specific subject as they create a textile piece, so it is thought that the particular theme is woven into the actual product.
“The process of the textiles is done by ladies in a state of profound meditation,” said Carlos. “Whenever some mind is in a state of profound meditation, wonderful things happen, like inspiration, like she’s linking together whatever she can observe from the natural world with her own spirits and bring wisdom out of that.”
The symbols woven into the textiles are significant. All 18 rooms at Casa San Blas are named after a traditional textile symbol.
Wisdom cards are a contemporary and artistic way to interpret the symbols woven into the textiles. Such cards are on display and for sale in the hotel lobby.
“Our wisdom cards have icons, designs, and meditations that can be used like a game, like a tarot card. The one you pick up puts you in context with some issue of your personal life…whatever you pick up is symbolic and hooks up immediately with the present moment,” said Carlos.
A photo tour of Casa San Blas
“We use the public areas to transmit knowledge and the rooms to transmit some wisdom,” Carlos Milla.
The art of weaving has been passed down through the generations. These traditions exist today, but in a different environment impacted by influences outside of Andean families and communities. To ensure the cultural significance of Peruvian textiles isn’t lost, educating a wider audience about these special traditions is important. Trail the history of textiles in Cusco at Casa San Blas for a unique look at the Andean region’s heritage.
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Britt is a California native who left her home to explore South America and now lives in Peru. She’s just a little obsessed about planning getaways with her family, scuba diving, and trekking.