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The city has many colonial-era Spanish buildings built of sillar, a pearly white volcanic rock, from which it gets the nickname La Ciudad Blanca ("The White City"). Reportedly, it first acquired this nickname in the colonial era, because most of its inhabitants were Creole of peninsular (Spanish) descent. The historic centre of Arequipa was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, in recognition of its architecture and historic integrity.
Soon after its founding, the city became a major commercial hub of southern Peru, accumulating commercial and administrative functions. The city articulated in times of the Viceroyalty of Peru an important economic hub in southern Peru, its role in the history of the Republic of Peru was and is gravitating, becoming declared "Capital of the Republic" during the government of Montero. Arequipa has also been home of many of the outstanding intellectual figures, political and religious icons in the country. In recent decades it has become an important industrial and commercial center of Peru, now being the second most industrialized city in Perú.
It has several industrial parks, for what the city has close trade ties with Chile, Bolivia and Brazil; links with cities connected by the Southern Railway and with the port of Matarani.