A Hidden Hacienda in Cuenca

Recovecos de Cuenca, hidden surprises of Cuenca. I was very honored to be invited into this 225 year old private home in Cuenca, previously a hacienda, with large land holdings. It is now in a very urban part of Cuenca, which used to be considered the countryside. Walking or driving by now, you might not recognize it’s history.

Once you enter the front door, and view the gorgeous garden, you truly enter another time!

The courtyard garden is surrounded by open verandas on all sides, filled with art.

It is the home of Sra’s Mariana and Lucrecia Palacio. Their family has owned the home for all of these years.

The house is full of the art of their brother, Miguel Palacio, who owns a gallery in Miami.

The wood floors all through the house are the original flooring, and they are made of eucalyptus wood.

You never know what lies behind the doors in Cuenca. This beautiful 225 year old hacienda house is a true hidden treasure of Cuenca!

Iglesia San Roque and San Roque Neighborhood

San Roque is a very traditional neighborhood of Cuenca. The first church was built by the priest Fernando Avendaño, between the years 1875 and 1880. A subsequent church was built in 1927 using the foundations and walls of the 1875 church. San Roque was named after the Holy pilgrim who dedicated his life to prayer and healing to the sick of the black plague; The present day church was built in the early 1980’s.

Iglesia de San Roque at sunset…

There are many legends in this neighborhood. La Viuda del Farol, is one of them. It is said that she was a woman who appeared at night, – she went out crying every night in search of her son. She said that they had robbed her and she was carrying a lantern in her hands and walked the entire neighborhood every night in the dark of the night.

San Roque was a neighborhood where there were canteens, which made it known as a bohemian area. Some of the houses in the area still have basements. It is said that the basements were used to hide contraband liquor.

San Roque neighborhood…

The church is located off of Loja Avenue. Loja Avenue used to be considered the southern entrance to the city, and this area was actually considered to be it’s own town. 

This large country house in San Roque Square was built on what was then the outskirts of the city in the late 1800’s. In 1954 the country house was sold to Elsa Valdivieso de Guillén and remained her home until 1980. In 1999 the property gained the name of “Villa Elsita”, in honor of its previous owner.

Neighborhood around Iglesia San Roque. The streets are narrow and winding.

The “Goat man” walking in the San Roque neighborhood. Bring your own bottle – he will fill it for $1.00

Another legend is that that there was a plague of ugly, skinny insects slightly resembling scorpions, in this area in the 1940’s. They are called ututus. The origin of the plague was attributed to the priest of San Roque at that time, who declared a curse to punish a theft from the church. As the years passed, it was discovered that the plague was not a product of the curse of the priest; however ututos can still be found in homes along the rivers. They can be quite scary looking, but they are harmless. When I first moved here, I witnessed an artist’s display of numerous very large metal stick bug structures in San Roque square. I wondered at the time why anyone would create an art piece of all of these large creepy bugs! But now I know the legend of the Ututos of San Roque!

In the center of the square there is a statue of the Marshal of Ayacucho, Antonio José de Sucre. In the past, schools and colleges would congregate in the square every 27th of February to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Tarqui.


Former Doctor Gonzalo Cordero Crespo House

This beautiful building was constructed between 1945 and 1952. Gonzalo Cordero Crespo was a prominent politician.  CIDAP was created in 1975, through an agreement between Ecuador and the Organization of American States OAS, which is dedicated to the promotion of Artisan craftsmanship and popular culture. In 1977 CIDAP rented the building for its cultural activities, and finally purchased the building in 1984.

Gonzalo Cordero Crespo hired a Spanish architect, Juan Orúz, based in Guayaquil, to design the building. The building is characterized by carved and polished stone used for the doors, windows, staircases, columns, and balustrades.

There is a story that a one-armed stonemason participated in the construction.  It is said he tied a chisel to his wrist to be able to hammer out the balusters, lintels and columns from blocks of grey Andean stone.

CIDAP showcases the continent’s artisans and handicrafts, with the purpose of strengthening culture and popular art in Ecuador and America. 

There are always amazing shows of handicrafts and art in this museum.  And the annual Fiestas Mercado in November which features artists and craftsmen from all over South America, Mexico, and Central America; centers around the CIDAP Museum. 

There is a side door to the building which opens onto to the Escalinata steps.

Escuela de Medicina/Museum of the University of Cuenca

The former School of Medicine of the University of Cuenca was built on this particular plot in 1916 because it was adjacent to the old St Vincent of Paul Hospital, therefore enabling students to obtain practice as well as theoretical training.

The main entrance has an exquisite wrought-iron semicircular gate.  The whole building is slightly raised from the pavement, accessed via short flight of steps in the fashion of a podium.

The project was promoted by Honorato Vázquez, Rector of the University, who also had a distinguished career as a diplomat, being Ecuador’s representative at the court of Madrid during the border conflicts thatoccurred in the country at the beginning of the 20th century. It occupied a privileged location on the banks of the River Tomebamba,

The handsome façade is entirely in exposed brick, in keeping with the style popular at the time.

A large interior courtyard held the classrooms and other facilities.

This courtyard is distinguished by a central gallery with twelve columns possibly added around 1930.  The gallery ceiling is of the polychrome brass variety.

A segmental arch displays a carved marble shield of the University of Cuenca at its centre. Still discernible above is a pinnacle inscribed with the date of construction, 1916.

An old Linotype Printing Press, and the letters used for the Printing Press.

The building was used as a site for the Cuenca International Bienal. Pictured here is an exhibit in the Bienal.

Situated on the west  is a corridor leading to an empty space outside that once accommodated tennis courts. In 1968 the School of Medicine moved but The University of Cuenca continues to own the building, and it is now the Museum of the University of Cuenca. 

Cuenca en La Noche

Cuenca is gorgeous all the time. But it is even more enchanting at night. “Cuenca doesn’t look like a sixteenth-century city that has been preserved; it looks like a city that has been in use since the sixteenth century.” Calvin Trillin

In Parque Calderon
Casa de Lira
Castillos for Corpus Christi
New Cathedral Domes
Plaza Otorango Steps
Old Cathedral
El Vado Steps
Old Cathedral Tower
Corte de Justicia
Iglesia de Todos Santos
Iglesia San Sebastian
El Vulcan in Calle de las Herrerias
Santuario Mariano
Old Cathedral
Casa de la familia Jerves Calero
Iglesia de Virgin de Bronce
Iglesia Santo Domingo
Iglesia de Santo Cenaculo
Monasterio de Conceptas
New Cathedral
Festival de Luces Santo Domingo
Cuenca Cemetary
Iglesia de Todos Santos

Museo de Medicina

Formerly the St Vincent of Paul Church and Hospital. 12 de April and Solano Avenue.

For over seven decades, these buildings accommodated the St Vincent of Paul Hospital, the city’s first health institution run by Social Welfare. It is accessed via a long exterior corridor that generates a slow approach, providing users with the time to admire the beautiful architectural features of the complex. Of handsome proportions, the church was designed by the German Redemptorist monk Juan B. Stiehle in the late 1890’s and was financed by Social Welfare with funds collected from donations and bequests.

Above the pediment,serving as the crest, is a statue of St Vincent of Paul.

An underground crypt contains 30 funeral vaults, in keeping with the old tradition of burying the dead in churches.

The complex was restored in 1986 by the architects Patricio Muñoz Vega and Gustavo Lloret Orellana, with funding from the Central Bank of Ecuador. Now it accommodates the Medicine Museum, and the church has been adapted to serve as the museum auditorium.

There are botanical gardens in the grounds and the complex is also one of the venues used for the Cuenca International Biennial.

The hospital facilities were organized in large wards around interior courtyards.

The church emerged as a consequence of the presence of the Sisters of Charity religious order, which attended the sick, and the need to keep vigil over those who died in the hospital.

Pediatric Ward


Thick adobe walls with deep set windows

Iglesia de la Merced

The Mercedarian Monastery in Cuenca was founded on 12 May 1712. Its first commander was Father Pablo de Santo Tomás, who initiated construction of the church and monastery. The latter was allocated to the Oblate Fathers, whose order was founded in the city of Cuenca by Father Padre Julio María Matovelle, the designer and builder of the church between 1884 and 1918.

There are two Castilian lions exquisitely carved on the front door.

In 1960 the Oblate Order decided to renovate the monastery, but the appearance of the church has remained relatively unchanged through the years. Inside, the church has low levels of natural light due to the fact that there are very few windows in the thick adobe walls of the church.

The middle of the carved wooden door displays the shield of Cuenca.

The left leaf of the door is decorated with an image of Our Lady of Grace,

The right leaf of the door displays the Mercedarian shield decorated with laurels and angels.

Located on one side of the church is Padre José María Matovelle Square, named after the founder of the Order of the Oblate Fathers in Cuenca. The square is distinguished by a concave stone wall carved with images associated with the foundation of the city, with a sculpture of Matovelle at its centre.

On the concave wall are images of the founding of the city and the church

Gobernacion del Azuay

At the corner of Calle Simón Bolívar and Calle Luis Cordero, overlooking Parque Calderón , sits the Gobernacion del Azuay, the government center of Azuay Province. 

There is an elegant staircase to the second floor, with a large tile mural as the backdrop.

On the wall facing you as you enter is a large format wall painting by Marco Martinez Espinoza.  The theme is “La Huelga de La Sal ”, an uprising of the indigenous people of Azuay and part of Cañar, who in 1925 surrounded the city of Cuenca, in protest at the hoarding of salt and its speculation

In the Galeria y Historia Jose Domingo Lamar, there are portraits (and photos) of many of the provincial governors displayed. 

Jose Antonio de Vallejo, First Governor of Cuenca

A large portrait of “El Gran Libertador”  Simón Bolívar overlooks the Assembly room. 

From the second floor balcony of this building you can see an amazing overview of all of Parque Calderón.  In non-covid times, if you politely ask the guard in the building, he will allow you to go out on the balcony to view it. 

More of the view from the balcony at Gobernacion del Azuay.

Calle las Herrerías

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.