Discover Cuenca’s Historical Landmarks and Attractions

With its historic center designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, surrounded by a maze of narrow streets and colonial-style buildings, Cuenca has some fascinating landmarks and attractions to visit. Situated at around 2,500 meters above sea level, the city is the capital of Ecuador’s Azuay Province. Archeological evidence suggests that the first humans inhabited the nearby Cave of Chopsi in about 8060 BCE, with later inhabitants using the area’s fertile soil, temperate climate and abundant water to develop agriculture. Their descendants created ceramics and other practical items, and by 2000 BCE had begun to develop organized societies with delegated responsibilities. The town of Cuenca was established by Spanish explorer Gil Ramírez Dávalos in 1557 and named after the city of Cuenca in Spain and visitors will note the Spanish influence in many of Cuenca’s treasured landmarks.

Featuring many superb examples of historic architecture and monuments, the center of the city is set out in a grid-style, with the rest of the city spreading out from it in a less organized fashion. It is within this grid-style center that visitors will find many of Cuenca’s cultural and historical treasures, including the New and Old Cathedral. Planned in 1557 and built ten years later, the Old Cathedral, officially known as Iglesia de El Sagrario, was reserved for immigrants from Spain at the time. It was built with stones retrieved from the Inca site of Tomebamba which stood in the area now occupied by Cuenca. When the congregation grew larger than the church could accommodate, the New Cathedral (Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción) was planned with building starting in 1885 and continued for decades before the Neo-Gothic style construction was complete. Featuring a façade of alabaster and local marble, the cathedral’s floor is covered with pink marble imported from Italy. The Old Cathedral is no longer consecrated as a place of worship and houses the Museum for Religious Art.

Situated between the Old and New Cathedrals, Park Abdon Calderon offers an oasis of tranquility enjoyed by both locals and visitors alike. Founded in 1682, the Monastery of El Carmen de Asuncion is another of Cuenca’s landmarks. It is also the venue for the local flower market with its abundance of colorful, fragrant blooms. In addition to the Museum of Religious Art in the Old Cathedral, visitors may also find the Municipal Museum Remigio Crespo Toral, the House of Ecuadorian Culture, the Museum of the Aboriginal Cultures and the Museum of the Central Bank to be of interest when visiting Cuenca.