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Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2015-04-02 17:32:20 | Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador
Keywords: Colonial, UNESCO
Ecuador got two magnificent colonial cities. I already talked you about Quito when I arrived in this country. Now that I'm leaving it, I stopped by the other major colonial city : Cuenca. There's a friendly revalry between the two cities as to which is the most beautiful. After spending two weeks in both, I can tell you they're very different and are both very interesting, for various reasons.

Cuenca was founded in 1557 and represents an astonishing example of inland Spanish grid cities in the Americas. The old downtown area, just North of the Tomebamba river (one of the four rivers in and around the city), is very well preserved. It features narrow cobblestone streets with impressive buildings.

Although the city is in a bowl valley surrounded by mountains all around, the city itself is rather flat with a few plateaus on the North and South ends, so the location allowed to have streets extremely straight, which is one fo the differences with Quito.

The other major difference with Quito is the variety of the architecture. Quito is like a colonial postcard, expecially since most buildings have been renovated in the last 25 years, due to damages caused by major earthquakes. In the capital, most of the buildings are made of white cement with color accents.

Narrow street of Cuenca with rich architecture.

In Cuenca, you'll find an extraordinary variety of architecture, with much more elaborated ornaments and structures. You'll also find many more colours and textures. Here, you'll find not only cement but also lots of bricks and stone(including massive pieces of marble). That will make you gasp and say « Wow! » at almost every street corner. You will also see stunning houses on the cliff near the river and you'll wonder how these houses can hold in place.

Newer buildings are present in the Old Downtown, but their architecture matches well with their neighbours. The only problem I found with Cuenca is that the streets are very narrow and the buildings rather tall, so it's hard to fully admire their beauty.

Most of the river banks are accessible and feature line parks and pathways. The rivers are with heavy current and when you're walking along the cliff side, the noise from the water covers up the noise from the traffic just 50 feet away, although it's often masked by the trees along the river.

An example of rocks use in Cuenca.

Cuenca is a small size city (about 600 000 inhabitants) that vibes a lot to the arts, especially music and painting. With a stable weather all year around, it's not that surprising to see that many foreigners chose Cuenca for their new home. There are over 10 000 expats living here, especially retirees. Yes, there are many Americans, but also many French and Quebecers as well, and there's a chapter of the Alliance Française promoting French culture and events.

The city was initially planned right next to the Pumapungo Inca settlement. The buildings were tore down by the Spaniards but the archaeological site is now right next to the historical part of Cuenca and it's free to visit. That site also features llamas lots of info about the birds and plants of the area. From atop of the ruins, you'll have a great view of the new city. There are also a few very interesting sites not too far away from the city which make great day trips.

For all those reasons, Cuenca was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1999.

Related posts:
Panama Viejo and Casco Viejo
Cathedral of León
León Viejo
Ouro Preto
Modern Ensemble of Pampulha


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