The Las Herrerías neighborhood is one of the most traditional neighborhoods in Cuenca. In the past this area was on the edge between the city and rural areas. Workers came to this area with their horses loaded with products to sell in Cuenca.
The horses were tied to posts, while their owners went to sell their products in the markets. In the meantime, the ironworkers would forge horseshoes for the horses and mules, and produce other ironwork products.
They also made Huasipichais, crosses that were placed on the roofs of homes. At one time there were more than 50 blacksmiths working in this area. Now there are far fewer. Instead of horseshoes, the blacksmiths now make lamps, chandeliers, crosses, vases, lanterns, shelves, hinges, doorknobs, and door knockers. Bring them a picture, and they can make anything you desire!
The area is also known for the local food – there are many restaurants on the street selling tamales, humitas, quimbolitos, empanadas, green tortillas, and fresh fruit juices.
At the end of Calle Las Herrerias is the Plaza Del Herrero, with the unique sculpture of “El Vulcan”. The statue symbolizes the Roman god Vulcan, the god of fire and metal. Rising from the volcano is the torso of a blacksmith, holding an anvil. There is an internal system which lights up with a flame, which is lit on special holidays. The volcano, which symbolizes the Andes Mountains, is covered with hundreds of enameled ceramic tiles, rocks, bricks and baked clay.
German-born ceramicist Christy Hengst and blacksmith Helmut Hillenkamp, both residents of Santa Fe, New Mexico, came to Cuenca in 1995 as part of the international aid company Swisscontact. The sculpture was made in collaboration with Helmut Hillenkamp, Miguel Cajamarca and Rafael Orellana (they made a large amount of the head); and Manuel Guerra, Vincente Maldonado, and, Mauricio Quezada.
With the Internet and the help of friends in the U.S. and Germany, they managed to acquire the economic support they needed for the project. The grouping of stone columns in the plaza are inscribed with the names of the people and companies who funded the project. The square opened in 1996.
At the end of the plaza is the Casa de Chaguarchimbana , which dates back to 1870, and which now houses the Museo de los Artes del Fuego.