Cuenca Ecuador

Cuenca Ecuador

Cuenca is capital of the province of Azuay and the third largest city in Ecuador. The city has preserved much of its colonial air, with many of its old buildings constructed of the marble quarried nearby and recently renovated. Founded in 1557, partly on an existing Inca settlement, Cuenca is on UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites and considered the cultural capital of Ecuador.

Most Ecuadoreans consider this their finest city and few would disagree. Its cobblestone streets, flowering plazas and whitewashed buildings with old wooden doors and ironwork balconies make it a pleasure to explore on foot.

As well as being the economic centre of the Southern Sierra, Cuenca is also an intellectual centre with a long tradition as the birthplace of notable artists, writers, poets and philosophers, earning it the title Athens of Ecuador'.

The city is bounded by the Río Machangara to the north. The Río Tomebamba separates the colonial heart from the stadium, universities and newer residential areas to the south.  El Cajas recreational area can be seen to the west of the city. The climate is spring-like, but the nights are chilly.

Cuenca's handicrafts are outstanding in variety, color and quality. These treasures, inspired by local imagination are created in straw, horn, cloth, embroidery, knit, clay, wrought iron, leather as well as gold and silver jewelry.

The region of Cuenca was already inhabited nine thousand years ago. The Caņari people settled here due to its favorable climate, abundant water and ideal land for cultivation. Extraordinary pieces of ceramic of this period, notable for their design and technique, are to be found in the museums. In the middle of the 15th century, the Incas came to this area and founded the city they called Tomebamba and a few years later, in 1557, the Spanish claimed the city and renamed it Cuenca.

Main attractions

On the main plaza. Parque Abdon Calderon, are both the Old Cathedral, also known as El Sagrario, begun in 1557 when modern Cuenca was founded, and the immense 'New' Catedral de la Inmaculada. The latter was started in 1885 and contains a famous crowned image of the Virgin. It was the work of the German architect Padre Johannes Baptista Stiehle, who also designed many other buildings in the Cuenca area. It was planned to be the largest cathedral in South America but the architect made some miscalculations with the foundations and the final domes on the front towers couldn't be built for fear that the whole thing would come down. Modern stained glass, a beautiful altar and an exceptional play of light and shade inside the cathedral make it worth a visit. The Sun evening worship is recommended.

El Sagrario was built on the foundations of an Inca structure and some of the Inca blocks are still visible facing the plaza. The French Geodesic Mission of 1736-1744 came to Ecuador to measure the Equator, and probably also to see what the Spanish were up to. They used El Sagrario as one of the fixed points for their measurements.

Other churches which deserve a visit are San Blas, San Francisco, El Cenaculo, and Santo Domingo. Many churches are open at irregular hours only and for services, because of increasing problems with theft. The church of El Carmen de la Asunción is close to the SW comer of La Inmaculada and has a flower market in the tiny Plazoleta El Carmen in front. The church is open early in the morning and miid-afternoon, but the attached cloister of Carmen Alto is closed as the nuns inside live in total isolation.

South of city on Av Fray Vicente Solano, beyond the football stadium, is Turi church and mirador, a 40-min walk or take a bus. Its well worth a visit for the great views and a tiled panorama explains what you see. There is an orphanage attached to the church. There are good walks along attractive country lanes further S.

There is a colourful daily market in Plaza Civica where pottery, clothes, guinea pigs and local produce, especially baskets, are sold. Thur is the busiest.


Continues on next page »