Cuencam Ecuador, 1-2 April 2011

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April 6th 2011
Published: April 7th 2011
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1-2 April 2011 Cuenca, Ecuador (the valley city)

After an 8 hour road trip in a privately hired bus, we arrived at beautiful Cuenca. Of all of the cities in Ecuador, Cuenca is arguably the most charming with its cobblestone streets, old-world cathedrals, colonial parks and urban rivers. The famously traditional Cuencanos continue a proud intellectual tradition that has produced more notable writers, poets, artists, and philosophers than anywhere else in Ecuador. There are many museums in the city some of which have taken over the buildings which used to be banks after many of the banks suffered from a collapsing economy in 1989. Cuenca is the capital of the Azuay province, the third largest city in Ecuador, and the economic center of the southern Sierra. These distinctions, along with the city's incredibly preserved history, recently earned Cuenca the honour of being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site. Cuenca's well-preserved history and cultural traditions make it a fantastic tourist destination. It is also known as a city of festivals.

Our hotel was close to everything. Diego, our guide, took us on a city orientation walking tour, showing us all the beautiful buildings of the northern/old section. Many of the terraced homes were colonial in style.
The 1st night after dinner, we went to where a festival was being held. The newly elected Mayor was celebrating, offering the people a brass band entertainment and fireworks. Apparently there are frequent fireworks in the city. There were a lot of people attending. The shops close at about 7.00pm most nights. We were back in the hotel by the time the fireworks went off.

The next day Diego took us on a more detailed city tour. We certainly saw the Spanish influence in the architecture. He also took us to the Panama Hat Museum where Tom bought himself a hat. He looks good in it and as most of you know he loves hats, he was in hat-heaven!! We also learned how the ladies made the hats in the past and how they are made now. There are healthier chemicals used to treat the plant material and the equipment is less RSI-causing. They became the Panama Hat after one was given to US President on the opening of the Panama Canal – even though they have always been made in Ecuador.
In the afternoon we went to the Inca Museum, but unfortunately it was closed being after 1.00pm Saturday. We walked around this massive building and saw the foundations of many Inca buildings. The Spanish destroyed much of the Inca buildings but we saw the stoned of these destroyed buildings used as foundations of the Spanish buildings.

Later in the afternoon, we took a bus trip around the new (South of the river) section of the city. We stopped up the lookout where saw how expansive the city was. We came across a massive shopping centre called the Mal del Rio which was even bigger that some of the (US) American centres.
Cuenca's history begins long before the arrival of both the Spanish and the Inca. The city was originally a Cañari settlement called Guapondeleg and is believed to have been founded around 500 AD Guapondeleg translates into "land as big as heaven."

The New Cathedral (Catedral de la Inmaculada) dominates the plaza.
Less than half a century before the conquistadors landed, the Inca, after a bitter struggle, conquered the Cañari and occupied Guapondeleg and the surrounding area. Though the Inca replaced Cañari architecture with their own, they did not exclude the Cañari or their impressive achievements in astronomy and agriculture. Rather, they absorbed these elements of Cañari culture, as was customary when they conquored other cultures.

Shortly after the defeat of the Cañari, the Inca commander, Tupac Yupanqui, ordered the construction of a grand city - Pumapungo, "the door of the Puma" - whose magnificence was to challenge that of the Inca capital of Cuzco. Indigenous people told the Spanish conquerors’ stories of golden temples and other such wonders, but by the time the Spaniards found the legendary city of Pumapungo, all that remained were ruins, leaving the Spanish to wonder what happened to the fabled splendour and riches of the second Inca capital.

After being abandoned by the Cañari and then the Inca, Cuenca was sparsely populated until the 1550's. The Cuenca that exists today was founded by the Spanish in 1557, which was relatively late, considering southern Ecuador's other major city, Loja, was founded in 1548.
Cuenca's population and importance grew steadily during the colonial era and reached the peak of its importance in the first years of Ecuador’s Independence; it became the capital of one of the three provinces that made up the republic, the other two capitals were Guayaquil (which is on the coast) and Quito.

We enjoyed Quito

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