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
Author: Jane Hiltbrand
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.
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.
Calle Larga and Presidenta Cordova
This building is one of an interesting group of dwellings from the republican period, built by the Crespo family. It is thought to have been designed by a Chilean engineer, who also designed the adjacent house. The first owner was Sra. Elvira Crespo Vega. She was the daughter of the poet Remigio Crespo Toral, and the wife of another poet, Gonzalo Cordero Dávila, who was the son of President Luis Cordero Crespo.
In 1994 the building was remodeled by the architect Francisco Escobar to accommodate the Victoria Hotel. It is one of the finest hotels in Cuenca.
El Jardin is the fine dining restaurant in Hotel Victoria. It has a lovely view overlooking the Tomebamba River.
Hotel Victoria has its own pastry shop – Mishquis del Victoria.
There are beautiful gardens in the rear of the building.
The central vertical section is distinguished by a horseshoe window with marble pillars and mouldings, and a central projecting balcony of the same material.
Cuenca en la Madrugada
Cuenca is beautiful all of the time.
But it is especially magical en la Madrugada (the early morning light).
Museo de las Culturas Aborígenes
The Museo de las Culturas Aborigenes at 5-24 Calle Larga has 15,000 Ecuadorian archaeological pieces, of which 5,000 are on display. 10,000 other pieces are in reserve, and can be visited by appointment..
The founder of the Aboriginal Cultures Museum is Juan Cordero Íñiguez, a former Minister of Education and native Cuencano, who started collecting artifacts in the 1970s. In 2002, the museum opened on Calle Larga, in a 100+ year old house which used to serve as a stable and inn , which housed persons bringing produce to Cuenca from the countryside. It has thick, adobe walls and a tile roof with a wrought-iron huaischapai cross.
It houses artifacts from the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras; and the Valdivia, Panzaleo, Puruhá, Cazhaloma, Tacalzhapa, Guangala, Jama Coaque, Tolila, Machalilla, Narrio, and Incan cultures.
The exhibits are arranged by time, ranging from the stone-age, dating from as far back as 13,000 BCE, to the pre-colonial period; and geography, focusing on major cultures from the Pacific Coast, the Andes, and the Amazon Basin. The collection holds pottery, jewelry, and carved figures from more than 10 distinct Ecuadorian cultures. It also includes examples of Incan pottery.
There is a very helpful self-guided museum guide, which will lead you through the 15 rooms. My photos show pieces with distinct artistry I love. The guide can give you very detailed and thorough information.
Bead necklaces and an oyster shell necklace.
In the overall scheme of things, the Incan civilization was relatively recent. (1438-1533) In the 15 chronologically arranged rooms in this museum, you do not come to the Incan culture until the 14th room.
The 15th and last room displays the use of metals which came about with the beginning of the arrival of the Spaniards.
The museum has one of the very best gift shops in all of Cuenca.
Casa de los Murales
12-40 Simon Bolivar
This house with the golden facade was completed in 1917, but it’s construction took more than 20 years. Since then, it has been the home of the lawyer Aurelio Aguilar Vásquez; headquarters of the Municipal Union, and is now the Multiple Center, providing medical assistance to Municipal employees. It was restored by the City of Cuenca in 2017.
The restoration was done in two phases. Phase One was the restoration of the old house. Phase Two was the construction of a modern three story building in the rear where there used to be an orchard for the house. That part is now used for the medical facilities.
Photo taken from the second floor looking down. There is a large space in the lobby which is made of “pisos de huesos”. Floors of bones. There were 1,600 pieces of bone in the original, many of which needed to be replaced.
Restored wallpaper of French origin.
Many of the walls had been painted white. Surveys were made, and old photos were used to discover the murals. Twelve murals were recovered.
View from the balcony of Calle Simon Bolivar, and Santo Cenaculo.
The outer façade is made of brick, and the internal walls are made of adobe, brick, and bahareque.
Casa de los Arcos
Gustavo Montesinos built this seven story house in 1915 for his wife Isabel González and family of 12 children.
La Casa de los Arcos graces the banks of the Tomebamba River. In 2011 it was one of the sites for the Cuenca Art Bienal.
The house sits alongside the beautiful 3 de Noviembre path, on the Tomebamba River. I had always thought this was the front door, but Kabir Montesinos told me no, this was the back door, where horses would pull up delivering goods for the household.
The front door to the house was actually entered here, on Tarqui and La Condamine. The house was built from the top floor here, first, and then down seven flights to the river!
This was the front courtyard. The walls are covered with photos of the Montesinos González family The glass rooftop is relatively new. Previously, rainwater just fell into the courtyard, and flowed down built-in canals, and out to the river.
These are some of the canals inside the house used for rainwater.
View from the top of La Condamine and El Vado.
Looking down on the balcony, which is on the fifth level. Many family weddings and festivities took place here.
Kabir Montesinos uncle told him that the children used to take a piece of cardboard, and slide down the stairs – of all seven floors!
In 1970 the property was acquired by Guillermo Vázquez and Octavio Muñoz. Inside the house is this crypt which keeps Muñoz’s remains. There have been stories of ghosts in the house!
The building was purchased by the University of Cuenca in 2004, and now includes some offices of the University.
East side of the building.
Left photo – Casa del Arcos 1950. Right photo – Raquel Montesinos Gonzalez, on one of the house balconies.
These are some old photos showing the embankment before the house was built, and then afterwards. It was quite an engineering feat!
This area is called El Barranco del Tomebamba. where there are many beautiful homes built along the river.