Old Cathedral of Cuenca
The Old Cathedral of Cuenca, or El Sagrario, was constructed in the same year that the town of Cuenca was founded: 1557. Its location is on ancient Inca ruins and it was built for the religious followers of Cuenca. The town eventually grew into a city but it has not lost its nostalgia. The cobbled streets, colonial mansions colonially-styled city homes complete with balconies decorated with iron edges, spectacular courtyards, breathtaking parks and beautiful churches, have secured Cuenca as one of the popular attractions in Ecuador. Its rich history and culture are reflected in the art galleries and the tales of wonder that can be heard from the locals.
As in many growing towns, religion played a very important role in the daily lives of the local community and El Sagrario was build to accommodate this need. Unfortunately the cathedral became too small to cater for the increasing attendance and a new cathedral was built directly opposite the Old Cathedral of Cuenca. The Old Cathedral had two hallways, a bell tower and an elongated atrium in the center. It was through private donations from the community that the cathedral was funded and it is probably due to this reason, that the cathedral remained standing after the bigger cathedral was constructed to replace it. The El Sagrario is not consecrated anymore and serves only as a museum, so there are no more pews to sit in or an altar to hear the words of the priest from. The first restoration work on the cathedral started in 1985, but its rescue only started in the year 1999. Restoration workers were able to save the beautiful paintings that originally adorned the walls and the center of the cathedral is used to exhibit rare and fascinating artifacts. The glass window that was installed in the floor of the cathedral allows visitors to peer down into the catacombs below the building, where skulls and bones have been carefully arranged. The Old Cathedral of Cuenca is remembered for its use by the French Geodessic Expedition in 1739. These men used the spire on the cathedral for a point of reference to establish the arc of the earth.
The construction of the new cathedral took quite a few years to complete. Construction had started in 1885, but building was staggered over the years so the cathedral was only completed in 1967. But the wait was worth-while and today people can enjoy looking at the magnificent blue and white domes that decorate the skies, the pink marbled floors, gold applications by the altar, stained glass windows and marble and alabaster facades. Both the New and Old Cathedrals of Cuenca are worthy attractions in Ecuador and even the most novice architectural enthusiast will be able to appreciate the beauty and splendor of these buildings.