Casa del Alfareros

House of the Potters / Mariscal Lamar y Calle Convencion 45

Previously called the House of the Convention of 45, this building is now called the El Alfarero (Potters) Cultural Center.  The history dates back to the Convention of 1845, in which Ecuador’s 4th Constitution was drawn up. The actual constitution was not drawn up in this house, but it is the space where there was a celebration afterwards. In this constitution, the term of office of the President of Ecuador was limited to four years, instead of the eight years allowed previously. 

The current building was restored in 2012.   Beautiful wood floors and thick adobe walls remain in the restoration.

This neighborhood also had a strong cultural tradition of potters and pottery.  La Casa del Alfarero has as a goal the strengthening and continuation of this trade.

A treasured very old work of pottery.

It is located in the “Y” intersection of Mariscal Lamar and Calle Convencion 45. The murals on the neighboring walls reflect the history of pottery in the neighborhood.

Photos of the building before restoration.

Many  artistic workshops are held in the Casa del Alfarero, including pottery, ceramics, drawing, and painting. 

Escuela Central

Gran Colombia and Benigno Malo

Originally this was the first public hospital in Cuenca from 1747 to 1822. From 1882 it functioned as a school for girls and for a short period of time also accommodated the library. It was known as the Central School due to its location in the city center.

At this moment there is an excellent exhibition in this historic building celebrating Cuenca’s 200 year Bicentennial of Independence from Spain. There is a beautiful exhibit of Cuenca clothing in one of the main halls.

It currently has a library, internet cubicles, auditorium, cafeteria, two rooms for artistic workshops and several rooms for exhibits.

This building is the work of the German monk Juan Bautista Stiehle. It was one of the first civic buildings erected by Stiehle and was specially requested by the city council. This is a photograph of Juan Bautista Stiehle.

In 2009, during a renovation under the courtyard, old water canals were unearthed, along with many old skeletons buried there.

“El Gran Libertador – Simon Bolivar / Jose Maria Vazquez de Noboa, in 1820 the first President of the Republic of Cuenca.

Shown is a copy of the Constitution of Cuenca. The original copy is in the Museum of Remigio Crespo Toral.

Located on a corner, the building has two entrances, both of which lead via hallways to the same central courtyard..

Las huérfanas – the girl orphans.

Plaza de San Francisco

The Plaza de San Francisco Market is a wild colorful combination of  weaving, basketry, ceramics, ironwork, wooden utensils, kitchen cups and plates, pots, plastic trinkets, religious paraphernalia, guinea pig roasters, sweaters, ponchos, rugs, weavings, and more.  It has a very storied history.  But it hasn’t looked the way it looks now, even since I have been here….

Almost since it’s beginning in 1558, it has been a place where the people brought their products to sell.

From the 1700’s and on, it became the preferred location for fairs and carnivals as well as executions which were a form of entertainment at the time. After Cuenca’s independence in 1820, dozens of enemy soldiers went to the gallows in the plaza. 

The most recent renovation of the Plaza was unveiled in January 2019. There were many years of conflict between the merchants, vendors, politicians and local Cuencanos before this renovation was completed. The renovated plaza has 96 units for vendors, distributed around the perimeter of the open square, which is quite a different layout from the very  crowded use of the square previously. 

In the 1800’s  the plaza underwent a transformation when Cuenca officials decided to “clean up” the Plaza de Armas, today’s Parque Calderon, and ordered all commercial activity relocated to San Francisco Plaza. The relocation of the Plaza de Armas vendors caused a minor uproar as they tried to find space with the vendors already in San Francisco Plaza.

The plaza saw another big change in 1953 when the city established the Diez de Agosto market two blocks to the south, on Calle Larga. Most of the plaza’s food vendors relocated to the new market but a few remained. During the next decade, the commerce of the plaza focused on clothing and household goods.

In the 1950’s the plaza served as the city bus station and was home to  Cuenca’s first gas station.

City photo) of the San Francisco Plaza renovation.

In addition to the vendors on the plaza, there are many stores and shopping center around the plaza. It is an excellent place to purchase Ecuadorian crafts and merchandise.

Panama hats have always been made in Ecuador! It is a misnomer from the days when Teddy Roosevelt wore an Eucadorian straw hat at the Panama Canal, and the style caught on in a big way!

There is now a fountain in the center, and plenty of space for concerts and music and performances. The paving stones were preserved for the floor of the square, a characteristic material of the streets of old Cuenca.

This Christmas the San Francisco Plaza was the location for Cuenca’s huge electric Christmas tree.  The Plaza was the place to be to see Christmas lights with the backdrop of the New Cathedral domes. 

Overlooking San Francisco Plaza…..

Favorite Architectural Cuenca Photos 2020

Corte de Justia
Iglesia de Todos Santos
Chaguarchimbana staircase
Calle Rafael Maria Arizaga
Calle Rafael Maia Arizaga
Iglesia Todos Santos
Antigua Casa Ordonez Vintimilia
New Cathedral
Parque Calderon
Hotel Santa Lucia
Salon del Pueblo
Santuario Mariano
Flower Market
Manuel Arce Torres House
Neira Family Home
San Luis Seminario
New Cathedral
New Cathedral
New Cathedral
Casa de la Familia Jerves Calero
Casa del Coco
Casa del Coco
Iglesia San Francisco
Iglesia San Francisco
Cass de la Familia Jerves Calero
Iglesia Todos Santos
Casa de la Familia Jerves Calero
Remigio Crespo Toral Museum
Cass de Bienal
San Sebastian Plaza
Iglesia San Sebastian
Iglesia Santo Domingo, Chapel
Iglesia Todos Santos
Iglesia Todos Santos, Convent
Pasaje Leon
Pasaaje Leon
Casa de las Palomas
Iglesia Santo Domingo
Casa del Artista, y Yanuncay Aqueduct
El Maiz Restaurant
Casa del Parque
Plazoleta San Blas
China House

Casa del Parque / Mansion Matilde

Luis Cordero y Simon Bolivar

This building, built in 1880, was originally owned by the Ordóñez Mata family. The family in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were involved in powerful national political and economic groups. They exported quinine, cocoa husks and Panama hats, and the family members included governors of Azuay, bishops and cardinals.

At the end of the 19th century the family commissioned two French artists (René Chaubert and Giussepe Majon) to redesign, build and decorate their various dwellings. Chaubert taught the local craftsmen wrought and cast iron techniques, which were then applied to balconies, doors and railings and nearly always included plant motifs. Attributed to the Latacunga architect N. Cornejo, this building displays a Renaissance-style façade.

Two large sections were in the original house: A service section, which was entered through Luis Cordero Street, and the main or residential part, where the family settled. This section was entered through Simón Bolívar Street. At the back of the service section was a courtyard where quinine husks were processed prior to sale.

The city’s main political and social events between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries took place in this house, as it was the only dwelling at the time suitable for accommodating illustrious guests. Its owner Hortensia Mata, hosted numerous club gatherings, and important political receptions.

When Doña Hortensia passed away, her heirs lived here for many years. Later, Mrs. Gladys Eljuri Antón acquired the property. In 2014, the idea for this project was formulated and in 2016 the restoration of this house began, which was closed for many years.  The idea was to build a gastronomic and cultural center in the Historic Center of Cuenca.  The restoration took four years, and Casa del Parque opened in 2020. 

Casa del Parque offers a great variety of gastronomic experiences with different flavors and costs.  On the ground level. there are nine stores, restaurants, and cafes.   

The murals were painstakingly restored.

Just this past week, the upstairs level of the building was opened to the public.  It is called Mansion Matilde – an architectural and cultural treasure for the city. All of the work was done under the supervision of the owners Mrs. Gladys Elijuri, and her husband Mr. Antonio Alvarez.  The architect was Esteban Espinosa.  The exquisite restoration work was supervised by Ana Urgilés.

There are five different rooms on the second level in Mansion Matilde. 

The Turquoise Tea Room serves a traditional English High Tea, with finger sandwiches, delightful pastries and a full menu of teas.   The room is named after the gorgeous original turquoise wallpaper with gold accents. 

Angels in the Architecture!

Bar 1880 is a great room for enjoyment of drinks and cocktails, while enjoying the fabulous view over Parque Calderon, and the New Cathedal.

There is a more formal restaurant “El Preferido de Matilde” serving classic gastronomy with local touches, with a capacity for just 20 persons. And then there are two meeting rooms – The Treaties Hall, and the Diplomatic Hall, with a capacity up to 40 persons for business appointments, and social events, birthday parties, engagement parties, and anniversaries. 

Casa del Parque, and Mansion Matilde have been restored as true architectural and cultural treasures, that will please your taste buds, in so many varied ways; and also completely delight your eyes!

El Cafetal de Loja

Sucre 10-50 between General Torres and Padre Aguirre

I have purchased excellent coffee from Loja at this store so many times, but never went further than the counter in the front. I only recently discovered there is a truly lovely cafe directly behind the front store. And then I got exceptionally lucky and asked the owner if I could go upstairs to see the house!

Coffee from Loja is considered to be some of the very best coffee in Ecuador. Maria at the front counter will package up freshly ground Loja coffee for you. (total biosecurity measures are followed, she just took her mask off for the photo).

The gate opens to a very lovely garden cafe in the middle of Cuenca’s historic El Centro district.

I was very fortunate to be allowed a private tour of the home.

The view out to Calle Sucre.

The busy coffee grinder. It is almost impossible to walk by the door without going in, because of the captivating coffee aroma drifting out to the street.

“Pisos de huesos” decorative flooring made from cow bones and river pebbles.

This is a very authentic beautiful old Cuenca family home, still very much lived in, not a museum.

The house follows a traditional colonial style centered around two courtyards.

The grande sala – a very spacious room with very high ceilings and the original wood floors, overlooking Sucre St.

Very old stone flooring.

If you are in El Centro Cuenca you must stop in to buy some fresh ground coffee. Or enjoy a cup in the cafe.

Casa de las Palomas

Calle Benigno Malo 6-40

This adobe constructed house was originally built around 1900, and at that time only had two rooms and a large lot that was used as stables.  In 1908 the building was bought by Joaquín Rendón who added on to the construction.  Joaquín Rendón  was a painter and dedicated most of his time to decorating the house’s walls with landscapes and decorative motifs, with the principal theme being women with doves.  

It is a good example of a Colonial home – which would consist of a courtyard, a rear yard, and a vegetable garden. It is an example of the Cuenca romantic tradition.

 One detail in the decoration is the paving of the floors of the hallway and the patios, made with river stones and rows of bones from the skeletons of cattle, called “pisos de huesos. And yes, you can see it is made of real adobe.

Other paintings show European rural landscapes with small towns and hunting scenes. The decoration of the house is consistent with the romantic taste of the time.

This building ceased to be a family home after Rendón’s death; his wife leased it to the military to be a casino. The house had many uses afterwards – for a while it was leased to the Tres de Noviembre  Elementary School.  Later the house was used for a candle and fireworks factory, and then later rented for the office of a newspaper called “El Sur”.

By 1972 the house had been abandoned and was rapidly deteriorating. In 1987 El Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural purchased and restored the building, and it is now their office.

Calle Rafael Maria Arizaga

This is one of the roads with the greatest historical value in the city, since this street was for a long time the northern limit of Cuenca and the gateway from neighboring towns.

The road is as unique and narrow as ever, paved with Andean cobblestones and a pebblestone pattern.

Formerly called “Real del Vecino” street, in 1961 the street was renamed Calle Rafael María Arízaga, after an illustrious local figure who had a distinguished career as a legal advisor, member of parliament, presidential candidate and diplomat.

I took many of these photos during a parade one year ago on December 1, 2019 to honor the 20 year anniversary of Cuenca being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site City. Calle Rafael Maria Arizaga was considered a fitting place to have the parade because of it’s historic past and authentic architecture. Pictured here in the parade is the Mayor of Cuenca, and his wife.

Calle Rafael Maria Arizaga is also known for many murals of Cuenca tradesmen.

The architecture of the street reflects the authentic style of Cuenca. The simple houses along the road have adobe and bahareque walls.

This neighborhood is known as El Vecino.

According to the historian Víctor Manuel Albornoz Cabanilla, El Vecino was the first Cuenca district, renamed by the cañamazos or “reedmen” who, skilled in the use of sharp knives, made the Panama hats. The straw hat weavers gradually settled in this street between the late 19th and early 20th centuries,

Iglesia de San Jose de el Vecino, on Calle Rafael Maria Arizaga.

“En agradecimiento a la Municipalidad de Cuenca por la restauracion del monumento nacional a Nuestra Madre de la Merced como especial protectora y guardiana de la Cuidad” Padres Mercedarios Cuenca 28-11-2014.

Fine Living in Cuenca Via a Photographers Lens

Lifestyle : Ecuador

Fine Living in Cuenca Via a Photographer’s Lens. By Donna Stiteler

Parque Calderón photographed by Jane Hiltbrand

Walk by 9-52 Simón Bolivar in downtown Cuenca, Ecuador on any given day and you’ll pass the historic emerald green and cream ceramic China House, where a handsome, stylish man stands on the wrought iron balcony looking down at you. Like many who pass the building, you might wonder “Why is he standing there and who is he?” Cuenca expat and photographer Jane Hiltbrand was captivated by the colorful Art Nouveau style façade, as well as its mysterious man on the balcony, and did more than just wonder. She went inside the China House and started photographing the polychrome brass designs on the ceilings and walls and climbed the wooden staircase to the second floor, where the mystery unraveled. The man in the window turned out to be a mannequin modeling one of David Anthony’s handmade suits, which he can pound out in only five days at his China House trajes para hombre shop. Jane also learned that the China House earned its popular name due to its elegantly decorated frontage, which is clad from top to bottom in pieces of china.

Jane’s passion for historical buildings began at a young age, when her parents rented a historic carriage house on The Narrows overlooking the New York Harbor in Brooklyn, New York.“It was an amazing place to grow up and gave me an appreciation of the history a house holds,” Jane says.
Her mother worked at LIFE magazine and growing up learning about photography and the distinctive architecture of the carriage house instilled Jane’s love of both art forms.

“I never forgot my childhood exposure to historical buildings, nor my love for architecture. But I decided pretty early on that I didn’t want to earn a living with photography—I didn’t want to have the burden of photography being a job. I wanted to keep it as a pure pleasure.”

So instead, Jane started out working in television advertising, and then became a real estate broker in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Nevertheless, her interests still found some expression in her work: “Whenever possible in my real estate career, I tried to specialize in historic or vintage properties. So, these have been my two special loves for a long time adds Jane.

Jane took two exploratory trips to investigate Ecuador, and landed up in Cuenca, the undisputed cultural capital of the country, a scenic colonial Andes mountain town sitting at 8,400 feet elevation with a population of 450,000, crossed by no fewer than four rivers.
“The moment I drove into Cuenca, it was love at first sight. You’re in this old, historical city, and living in the middle of it was very appealing to me.”

Jane retired to Cuenca in 2017. She’d done her financial projections, totaled everything up and realized that, although she could afford to retire in the States, doing so wouldn’t be as much fun as moving to Ecuador. “I would mostly be paying bills,” she notes. “After the real estate crash in 2008, retirement wasn’t going to be what I thought it was. One thing I wanted in my retirement was affordable travel.

That’s definitely available here in South America, and there’s so much to see. I have already traveled to Peru, Chile, and Patagonia, and I am planning trips to Buenas Aires, Argentina and Uruguay, Jane adds. “Staying home in Ecuador is a pleasure, too. I fell in love with Cuenca because of its gorgeous architecture and also the friendliness and warmth of the Ecuadorian people.”
The cost of living is low all over Ecuador. Cuenca, in particular, is an easily walked city, and public transportation is 35 cents for a bus or tram ride. Taxis are $2.50 or less to get most places in town. Most expats don’t own a car. This high in the Andes, utilities run around $50 a month because you don’t need air conditioning or heating; and, because propane, used for hot water and the stove, costs $3.00 a cannister, there’s not as much need for electricity. Rents can run between $350 and $700 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment/condo, or house, depending on the size and location.

It means that many Cuenca expats find they can live very comfortably, and still have enough for travel, social life, and to enjoy the busy arts scene.

“The first weekend I was here there was a party for the opening of the newly restored Casa Museo Remigio Crespo Toral, the historic house which once belonged to the Ecuadorian poet, Remigio Crespo Toral. There were beautiful young Cuencana women modeling period clothing for the opening reception, the museum was jam-packed with people, a lot of them older established Cuencanos. There was a classical music concert in the auditorium, and a jazz band playing in the café in back,” notes Jane. “I knew straight away that this was the city for me.”

Like a lot of expats who come to Cuenca, being able to live well without the pull of a high-pressure job left Jane with time to rediscover passions that had been parked while she focused on her career. When she moved into the post career phase of her life, Jane reignited the photography skills she’d honed at Boston University, where she studied photojournalism as an undergraduate. She strung her camera around her neck like a valued piece of jewelry and logged miles walking in Cuenca’s historic district, photographing not only the French façades and classic Spanish architecture but also the ornate interiors and courtyards hidden behind the unassuming wooden doors of the most famous buildings in the city.

The buildings of Cuenca fascinated Jane and inspired her to become a “visual storyteller” using her photographs to capture the stories, both past and present, of the 16th-century Spanish colonial and 18th-century French Republican architectural structures in Cuenca. That rich, and rare, environment is part of the vibrant cultural package which earned the city its UNESCO Heritage site designation.

“I enjoy the idea of photography being a record of a moment in time. It might be why I enjoy looking at old historic photographs so much,” explains Jane about her inspiration. “More than anything else, it gives you a good idea of what life was like 100 years ago, or 50 years ago, or even last week.”

“My Spanish teacher, Cristina Flores Ortiz, with Walking Spanish Lessons, gave me a copy of a guide to Cuenca architecture, written in Spanish,” says Jane. “It covers 165 historical properties. The original guide only has exterior photos, but I’ve been attempting to take interior photos of these buildings as well. Additionally, I try to share a little bit of the history involved. I sometimes post old historical photos of the buildings, if I am able to find them.”

Although the pandemic slowed her progress in photographing the city’s buildings, Jane feels the pause during quarantine gave her the time to create her blog, – A Guide to Cuenca Architecture, and study the history of the local architecture. She’s particularly interested in the French influence on Cuenca’s buildings, which is a rare feature in South America, as the continent was mostly colonized by the Spanish and Portuguese.

And, like the man standing in the window at the China House, Jane is a constant observer of life in Cuenca. An expert interpreter chronicling Cuenca’s history through her photography, which captures the past and combines it with the present.
Her visual storytelling creates memories of stories from times past and instills in us expats that we too are a part of the city’s rich history.

French Flair in A South American City

WHY? Cuenca’s dance with the French began in 1736, when the French Geodesic Mission came to Ecuador with the purpose of measuring the roundness of the Earth. The process involved measuring the length of a degree of latitude at the equator, which bisects the country and gives it its name (“Ecuador” in Spanish means “equator”). Hearing that Cuenca was a city favored by both Incas and Spanish as “the jewel of Ecuador,” the French traveled south to Cuenca from their expedition in Quito. Cuenca’s high rollers were so impressed by the flamboyant French that they deemed their society as the most elegant in the world and soon adopted aspects of its culture as their own. Soon, upper-class Cuencanos were plastering French Republican façades over their Spanish colonial exteriors, building French-inspired parks around town, buying Louis XVI furniture, and sending their children to French schools abroad. This era had a profound effect on Cuenca and was instrumental in turning it into the cultural capital of Ecuador. Photo of China House by Jane Hiltbrand.

The city now boasts a bustling downtown, modern conveniences, a renowned flower market, indigenous textile markets, and the famed three baby-blue domes of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (situated on the corner of the French inspired town square, Parque Calderón).
Tourism over the past five years has increased by 30%, and Cuenca has become a popular destination because of its mix of Inca, Spanish, and French cultures, as well as a downtown boasting more than 300 restaurants and blocks of chic shops tucked into the delightful historical architecture.


Author Donna Stiteler gave up her high-stress job in 2014 and moved to Cuenca, Ecuador, where she lives in a beautiful hacienda overlooking the Andes mountains.


Calle de las Herrerias

This country house takes its name from the area in which it is located, Chaguarchimbana, on Calle de las Herrerias. Chaguarchimbana means “chaguarquero”, or the shallowest place for crossing the river. No-one knows exactly when the area gained this name, but it pre-dates the colonial period.

During the Inca period,the Royal Road passed by this place, connecting the two most important Incan cities, namely Tomebamba and Cuzco. In the colonial period the area was taken over by the city’s wealthy families, because of its scenic landscape and also because it was an advantageous site for obtaining farming produce to meet daily needs.

Records indicate that in 1832 the property belonged to Juan Izquierdo del Prado, the city council’s scribe. On his death the estate was divided into two parts, with the River Yanuncay serving as the common boundary.
José Miguel Narciso Valdivieso, purchased this part of the land in 1862, and in 1875 it was inherited by his son Antonio, who built the country house as a holiday home. In 1908 Chaguarchimbana passed into the hands of his niece Florencia Astudillo Valdivieso, who died on March 18, 1956, at the age of 87. 

At that time, Chaguarchimbana was one of the most elegant mansions in the region, in the middle of the city and the countryside, considered a house full of luxuries and comforts, with wide corridors, gardens, and murals that adorned the front facade. 

This colonial-style house is arranged around a patio, two floors, a large entrance gate and an entrance corridor, it also shows characteristics of the region: wide corridors, bluish or lilac colors on the walls and a watch tower where one could observe Cuenca. 

It was restored in 1992 , where it housed the Museum of the Earth and the Arts of Fire under the responsibility of the Paúl Rivet Foundation. Later it passed into the hands of the Municipality of Cuenca. 

On the second floor balcony there is a series of murals c 1910 inspired by European prints, a very frequent practice among painters of that time. They could be from the hand of Nicolas Vivar known for having frescoed many of the houses and churches of that time.

Some of the metal work on display at the “Museo de las Artes Del Fuego”