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Cuenca

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Cuenca is located in Spain
Cuenca
Coordinates: 40°4′N 2°9′W / 40.067°N 2.15°W / 40.067; -2.15
Country  Spain
Autonomous community  Castile-La Mancha
Municipality Cuenca
Government
 - Mayor Francisco Javier Pulido
Area
 - Total 911.06 km2 (351.8 sq mi)
Elevation 946 m (3,104 ft)
Population (2008)
 - Total 54,600
 - Density 59.93/km2 (155.2/sq mi)
 - Demonym Conquenses
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 - Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Postal code 16000
Website http://www.cuenca.es/

Cuenca is a city in the autonomous community of Castilla-La Mancha in central Spain. It is the capital of the province of Cuenca (see map), and one of the largest provinces in Spain (17,061 km2), being almost as large as countries like Slovenia or Montenegro.

Contents

Geography and climate

Cuenca is located across a steep spur, whose slopes descend into deep gorges of the Júcar and Huécar rivers. It is divided into two separate settlements: the "new" city is situated south-west to the old one, which is divided by the Huécar course.

The climate of Cuenca is the typical continental Mediterranean of Spain's "Meseta" (inner plateau). Winters are relatively cold, but summers are quite hot. Spring and autumn seasons are short, with pleasant temperatures during the day but with rather cold nights due to its altitude from 956  m above sea level up to 1000 m in the old town.

Average / Month Average Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
High temperature Celsius 18.8 9.4 11.1 14.2 15.7 20.1 25.9 30.7 30.3 25.5 16.6 13.1 10
Low temperature Celsius 6.3 -0.7 0.3 1.7 4.9 7.6 11.7 14.7 14.8 11.3 6.8 2.7 0.7
Precipitation millimetres year: 507 45 41 32 56 60 44 15 17 47 53 49 58
Source: AEMET
Historic Walled Town of Cuenca*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Cuenca-panoramica4.JPG
State Party  Spain
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, v
Reference 781
Region** Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1996  (20th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

History

When the Iberian peninsula was part of the Roman Empire there were several important settlements in the province, such as Segóbriga, Ercávica and Gran Valeria. However, the place where Cuenca is located today was uninhabited at that time.

When the Muslim Arabs captured the area in 714, they soon realized the value of this strategic location and they built a fortress (called Kunka) between two gorges dug between the Júcar and Huécar rivers, surrounded by a 1 km-long wall. Cuenca soon became an agricultural and textile manufacturing city, enjoying growing prosperity.

Around the 12th century the Christians, living in northern Spain during the Muslim presence, started to slowly recover the Iberian peninsula. Castile took over western and central areas of Spain, while Aragon enlarged along the Mediterranean area. The Muslim Kingdom, Al-Andalus, started to break into small provinces (Reinos de taifas) under Christian pressure, Cuenca being part of the taifa of Toledo. In 1076 it was besieged by Sancho Ramírez of Aragon, but not conquered. In 1080 King Yahya al-Qadir of Toledo lost his taifa, and his vizier signed in Cuenca a treaty with Alfonso VI of León and Castile by which he ceded him some fortresses in exchange of military help.

After Alfonso's defeat in the battle of Sagrajas (1086), Cuenca was captured by the King of Seville, Al-Mu'tamid ibn Abbad. However, when his lands were attacked by the Almoravids, he sent his daughter-in-law Zaida to Alfonso, offering him Cuenca in exchange of military support. The first Christian troops entered the city in 1093. However, the Almoravids captured it in 1108. Their governor in the city declared himself independent in 1144, followed by the whole Murcia the following year. In 1147 Muhammad ibn Mardanis was elected King of Cuenca, Murcia and Valencia. He had to defend his lands from the Almohad invasion until his death 1172, after which his son had to sign a pact of tributes with the newcomers. A 17 year old Alfonso VIII of Castile tried to conquer the city, but after five months of siege, he had to retreat after the arrival of troops sent by the Almohad caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf. Alfonso signed a 7-years truce but when, in 1176 the Cuencans occupied some Christian lands in Huete and Uclés, Alfonso intervened at the head of a coalition including also Ferdinand II of León, Alfonso II of Aragon and the Military Orders of Calatrava, Santiago and Montegaudio, besieging Cuenca for months startign from 1177's Epiphany. The city's commander, Abu Bakr, sued again the support of Yaqub Yusuf, but the latter was in Africa and did not send any help. After an unsuccessful Cuenca sortie against he Christian camp on 27 July, the besieged city was conquered by Alfonso's troops on September 21, 1177, while the Muslim garrison took refuge in the citadel.

The latter fell in October, putting an end to the Arab domination in Cuenca. Alfonso VIII granted the city a title, and it was considered to be "Muy noble y muy leal" (Very noble and very faithful). It was given a set of laws, the Fuero, written in Latin, that ruled Cuenca's citizens, and it was considered one of the most perfectly written at that period of time. The diocese of Cuenca was established in 1183; its second bishop was St. Julian of Cuenca, who became patron saint of the city.

During the next few centuries Cuenca enjoyed prosperity, thanks to textile manufacturing and livestock exploitation.The cathedral started to be built at that time, in an Anglo-Norman style, with many French workers, since Alfonso VIII's wife, Leonor de Plantagenet, was French.

During the eighteenth century the textile industry declined, especially when Carlos IV forbade this activity in Cuenca in order to prevent competition with the Real Fábrica de Tapices (Royal Tapestry Factory), and Cuenca's economy declined, thus losing population dramatically (5,000 inhabitants). During the independence war against Napoleon's troops the city suffered great destruction, and it made the crisis worse. The city lost population, with only around 6,000 inhabitants, and only the arrival of railroads in the nineteenth century, together with the timber industry, were able to boost Cuenca moderately, and population increased as a result to reach 10,000 inhabitants. In 1874, during the Third Carlist War, Cuenca was taken over by Carlist troops, supporters of Carlos María Isidro as king instead of the ruling Isabel II, and the city suffered great damage once more.

The twentieth century began with the collapse of the Giraldo cathedral's tower in 1902, which affected also the facade. It had to be rebuilt by Vicente Lámperez, with two new twin towers at both ends of the facade which have remained unfinished without the upper part of them.

The first decades of the twentieth century were as turbulent as in other regions of Spain. There was poverty in rural areas, and the Catholic Church was attacked, with monks, nuns, priests and a bishop of Cuenca, Cruz Laplana y Laguna, being murdered. During the Spanish Civil War Cuenca was part of the republican zone (Zona roja or: "the red zone"). It was taken in 1938 by General Franco's troops. During the post-war period this area fell into extreme poverty, causing many people to migrate to more prosperous regions, mainly the Basque Country and Catalonia, but also to other countries such as Germany. The city started to recover slowly from 1960 to 1970, and the town limits went far beyond the gorge to the flat surroundings.

Within recent decades the city has experienced a moderate growth in population and economy, the second one especially due to the growing tourism sector, and both of them fuelled by improvements in road and train communications. Cuenca has strongly bet on culture and as a result of this it was declared a World Heritage site in 1996. In the recent years, new cultural infraestructures such as the municipal Concert Hall or the Science Museum place Cuenca in a good position to apply for the title of European Capital of Culture in 2016.

Main sights

Cathedral.
Cathedral's Organs.
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Our Lady of Grace cathedral

Cuenca Cathedral was built from 1182 to 1270. The façade was rebuilt after it crumbled down in 1902. It is the first gothic style Cathedral in Spain (together with Avila's one), because of the influence of Alfonso VIII's wife, Eleanor, daughter of the King of England and his wife, Eleanor of Acquitaine, who introduced the Anglo-Norman style.

From that date the cathedral has undergone some changes. An apse-aisle (doble girola) was added in the 15th century, while the Renaissance Esteban Jamete's Arch was erected in the 16th century. The main altar was redesigned during the 18th century by famous architect Ventura Rodríguez: it features a precious iron-work gate. The façade was rebuilt in 1902 from ruins due to the collapse of the former bell tower, the Giraldo. In the early 1990s modern coloured windows were installed, and in 2006 one of the two old baroque organs from Julián de la Orden was recovered. The other organ has also been restored, and on 4 April 2009 an inauguration ceremony was held.

The naves do not follow exactly a straight line. The San Julián altar, dedicated to Saint Julian of Cuenca, at the apse-aisle, consists of columns made of green marble.

Another curiosity are the "Unum ex septem" signs at some chapels. It is said that if one prays looking at these signs one would obtain a five-year forgiveness for one's sins, and seven years if one prays during the patron saint's day.

Saint Peter church

With Romanesque origins, the church of St. Peter (San Pedro) was rebuilt by Jose Martin de la Aldehuela during the 18th century and displays since that time a Baroque façade. It shows an octagonal shape outdoors but it is circular inside, and it is located at Plaza del Trabuco.

This church can be reached by going up along San Pedro Street from Plaza Mayor.

Saint Michael church

The Iglesia de San Miguel was erected during the 13th century, with only one nave and an apse. In the 15th century a second nave at the north side was added. The dome was built by Esteban Jamete in the 16th century and finally the wooded ceiling of the two naves was changed by stone-made vaults during the 18th century.

Saint Michael was restored in the 20th century, and its management was transferred to Cuenca's municipality from Cuenca's Diocese, so that this church could be used to hold classical music concerts. In fact, Saint Michael is home of the Religious Music Week (Semana de Musica Religiosa) together with other places within the city and its province.

It is located at San Miguel street, next to Plaza Mayor. Saint Michael is accessed through a descending narrow passage which starts at Plaza Mayor left lateral (looking from the Town Hall).

The Savior church (Iglesia del Salvador)

Built in neogothic style during the 18th century, with only one nave and a high tower. It shows a modest baroque facade and some remarkable baroque altars indoors. The door is however quiet modern, added in the late 1990s.

The famous religious procession "Las Turbas", held on Good Friday morning, starts at this location, since the image of "Jesús el Nazareno", which is at the forefront of the procession, is kept within "El Salvador".

St. Paul Bridge.

Saint Paul bridge

The St. Paul bridge (Puente de San Pablo) was built from 1533 to 1589, a construction driven by the canon Juan del Pozo, over the river Huecar's Gorge, aiming at connecting the old town with St Paul convent.

The original bridge collapsed, and the current one was built in 1902, made of wood and steel according to the style dominating at the beginning of the 20th century. It is up to 60 metres high, and supported upon the remains of the old bridge.

Seminary

The Seminary (Seminario), a rectangular building stretching from Plaza de la Merced to Mangana Square, was established under the ruling of the bishop José Flores Osorio and built by Vicente Sevilla, around 1745. The magnificent baroque façade at Plaza de la Merced was however set up in 1748.

It holds a library with numerous ancient books, some of them “incunables” (previous to 1501). There is also a Rococo meeting room inside and a Gothic altarpiece at the chapel, but visits are not allowed.

In 2004 some books from this library were stolen, but the suspect of the robbery was caught and the books recovered before entering on a auction process.

Now an average of 10-15 future priests are trained there, according to Spanish Episcopal Conference link statistics.

Saint Paul Convent.

The old Saint Paul convent

St Paul convent was built in the 16th century by command of the canon priest Juan del Pozo, a monk belonging to the Dominican Order. Brothers Juan and Pedro de Alviz were in charge of the building project; Pedro worked on the convent and the cloister and Juan on the church.

The church was finished in the 18th century, in rococo style.

The convent was ruled by Dominican monks, but during the 19th century was handed over to the Pauline Fathers, who were based here until 1975, when they left due to the possible collapse of the building. In the 1990s the convent was restored to house the Parador Nacional de Turismo de Cuenca, a hotel.

The cloister has an ornamental source of water, and the cafeteria is the old chapel. From the convent the old town can be reached easily by crossing St Paul bridge.

Bishop's Palace

The bishop's palace features, on three of its museums, the Diocese's Museum, which has a remarkable collection of religious art. It can be easily accessed from the Cathedral.

The rooms where the collection is shown were remodeled by architect Fernando Barja Noguerol, and Gustavo Torner selected the art pieces from an inventory made by some priests of the Diocese in 1977. Some of the diocese's artistic patrimony was lost during the Spanish War of Independence, the confiscation of ecclesiastical property by Juan Álvarez Mendizábal, and the Spanish Civil War.

Masterpieces like The Byzantine Diptych (book-like silver work whose origin is dated around 1370, containing saints' relics), paintings by El Greco, and handcrafted carpets from Cuenca's school, can be seen at the museum.

Outside view of El Castillo (The Castle) and the City Walls.

El Castillo (The Castle)

El Castillo is the name for the remains of an ancient Arab fortress, representing the older structures of Cuenca. Only a tower, two stone blocks, the arch which allows to enter/leave the old town from the Barrio del Castillo and a fragment of the walls have been left. The arch (arco de Bezudo) is named after Gutierre Rodriguez Bezudo, from Segovia, who fought the Arabs with King Alfonso VIII to conquer Cuenca.

The castle was home of the Holy Inquisition after 1583, and it was finally destroyed during the 19th century by French soldiers during the Spanish War of Independence.

Nearby are the small chapel and cemetery of San Isidro.

Mangana Tower

Mangana Tower

Origins of the Mangana Tower remain unclear. In 1565 it was painted by Antoon van den Wijngaerde, which indicates that at that time Mangana had already been built up, and after the attacks by French soldiers during the Spanish War of Independence war - at the beginning of the 19th century - and having been hit previously by a thunderbolt in the 18th century, it became badly destroyed. Mangana Tower was rebuilt by Fernando Alcántara in Neomudejar style - inspired on Arab decorative motifs - in 1926. Finally Victor Caballero gave Mangana its current look in a fortress-like style in 1968.

It has a clock on one of its walls and a recording of bell chimes can be heard in the old town at certain times (every quarter of an hour).

There are views from the near viewpoints over the river Jucar's gorge and the modern neighborhoods. Mangana can be reached on foot from Plaza Mayor.

Town Hall

The Town Hall (Ayuntamiento) is a building in baroque style built up during the ruling period of king Charles III and supported over three roman arches. It was finished in 1762, as it can be read on the façade.

The central arch is the only one giving access to vehicles to Plaza Mayor.

Hanging houses

Hanging Houses

Built over a rock above the Huecar's river Gorge in the 15th century, the Las casas colgadas are the only remaining sample of this type of buildings which were frequent in this city long time ago.

Las Casas Colgadas can be considered the most famous civil building in Cuenca. They house a restaurant and the Museum of Abstract Arts and they serve as the background of millions of photos made from the bridge of San Pablo.

Monument devoted to the Holy Heart of Jesus

On top of the Cerro del Socorro you can find the monument devoted to the Holy Heart of Jesus, whose materials were transported on donkeys in the mid-20th century. This place is a magnificent viewpoint over the city. It can be accessed by taking the road to Palomera / Buenache de la Sierra (Huecar river's Gorge) and turn right after 5 km, approx.

Cuenca Province council

The provincial council's seat (Diputación provincial de Cuenca) is a building with 2 floors built at the beginning of the 20th century according to a project conceived by provincial architect Rafael Alfaro. The Cuenca shield at the façade is made of Carrara marble.

Town Hall of Cuenca and Plaza Mayor.

Others

Other notable buildings in Cuenca include the San Felipe Neri church, the Our Lady of Light church (Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de La Luz) and the Las Petras convent.

Museums

Spanish Abstract Art Museum, in Cuenca.

Parks

  • El Escardillo: a few trees and a fountain, over a small patch of ground, make this garden one of the few green areas in the old town.
  • Los Moralejos: located near the entry point from Madrid, Los Moralejos, also known as "Carrero" (its old name was Carrero Blanco, the VP of General Franco), is a park which was enlarged in the early nighties, when San Julian's fair was moved to its current location, thus releasing some amount of land. A bycicle lane has been built recently, as well as a new connection with the "el Sargal" sport centre.
  • Santa Ana, "El Vivero", near to the Cuenca's bullring, large trees give shadow to most of the park, something wellcome during summer heatwaves.
  • San Fernando: located in the expansion area of Cuenca, it is settled on a slope and features, among other attractions, three small lakes.
  • San Julián, the oldest one in Cuenca, created at the beginning of the XX century, from land donated by Gregoria Fernández de la Cuba, whose sculpture can be found here. San Julián's park is an example of sustainable design: there is no grass, instead of it rectangles of terrain along the perimetre contain large trees, and are separated by bush rows and sand paths. In the centre, an open space houses a beautiful bandstand. An sculpture of Lucas Aguirre y Juárez, which devoted its filantropic efforts to education of poor children, is also here. A fully functional "Manneken pis" relieves thirsty passers-by during the summer days.

Festivities

Quote

"Most Spanish towns faced with Cuenca's need to expand in the 18th century would have spread out along the surrounding countryside. But Cuenca, perched on the top of a hill, turned not to the earth but to the sky. Its improbable solution stands all along that part of the town that clings to the side of the hill and that faces the River Huécar: its hanging houses. The flat-fronted dwellings in the Barrio de San Martìn, so starkly simple a child could draw them, rise seven or eight teetering stories above a ravine and the River Huécar to the east. It is as if the town were trying to outgrow itself, reaching ever higher in an effort to compensate for the ravine below."

— Isabel Sota, from "Hanging Houses of Cuenca", in the October 21, 1990 edition of The New York Times

Name origin

Its name may derive from the Latin conca meaning "river basin", referring to the gorge of the rivers Júcar and Huécar. It may also be derived from the now-ruined Arab castle, Kunka. Other alternative original names have been suggested, including "Anitorgis", "Sucro" or "Concava". The city of Cuenca is also known as the "Eagle's Nest" because of its precarious position on the edge of a gorge.

Transportation

The city is a popular day or weekend trip from Madrid, to which it is connected by rail (RENFE) and by bus (Auto Res 2 hour or 2:30 hour trip duration). Within two or three years a new high-speed rail link is planned between Cuenca and Madrid, reducing the journey time to only 45 minutes. The A-40 motorway, almost completed, connects the city with the A-3 at Tarancon, 82 km away from Madrid, thus totalling 166 km to Spain's capital. Cuenca is 200 km far from Valencia, via the A-3 in the opposite sense.

Twin towns - sister cities

Cuenca is twinned with:

Gastronomy

The following are typical dishes from the Cuenca area, being basically the result of combining those of Serranía and Mancha areas:

  • Ajo arriero, made of cod, potato and garlic, can be spread on bread
  • Cordero, some pieces of lamb simply roasted or in caldereta
  • Morteruelo, a kind of pâté made of different kinds of meat, mainly hare, partridge, hen and pork.
  • Pisto manchego, a mixture of vegetables (tomato, pepper, courgette/zuchinni) cut up and fried together, similar to the "ratatouille" from France.
  • Queso manchego, extraordinary ones, coming from Villarejo de Fuentes, Santa María del Campo Rus or Villamayor de Santiago, made only from sheep's milk
  • Setas, during the autumn a great variety of mushrooms can be collected in the forests near Cuenca. The most frequent is the so called "Níscalo", but other species, such as boletus, can also be found.
  • Trucha, trouts from the mountain rivers just grilled
  • Oreja, Forro, Panceta ... different cuts of pork usually grilled

For dessert, the Alajú is an Arab cake made of honey, almonds, nuts and grated orange rind. Resoli is a typical drink, served in a glass with ices or directly drunk from a "porrón" after a meal.

Gallery

See also

External links

Coordinates: 40°04′N 2°09′W / 40.067°N 2.15°W / 40.067; -2.15


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Cuenca is a town in the Cuenca Region of Spain.

Understand

Cuenca is situated between Madrid and Valencia, in the third least populated region in Europe, and the town itself is a world heritage site - the old town is an outstanding example of a medieval city, built on the steep sides of a mountain. The many casas colgadas ("hanging houses") are built right up to the cliff edge, making Cuenca one of the most striking towns in Spain, a gem (not the only one) in the otherwise largely province of Castilla La Mancha.

Get in

Cuenca lies on the secondary rail route from Madrid to Valencia with at least four trains each way daily. The journey takes around 2½ hours from Madrid and 3½ from Valencia. The trains have poor quality, it would be better travel on road (1h 30m from Madrid), althought starting 2010-2011, Cuenca will have high speed trains (45m from Madrid). It's a popular weekend destination, for lovers, artists and romantic people, so hotels are often less crowded during the week.

There is a coach station called Cuenca bus station in the centre of Cuenca that travels to nearby cities. Travel time to Madrid is approximately 2 hours and it is about the same travel time to Valencia, costing around 12 euros.

Get around

Its best to go by car, but if you don't mind walking there is much that can been seen and done in the center of town.

  • Museum of Spanish Abstract Art, Calle Canónigos 16001, +34 969212983. Cuenca was the longtime home of artist and photographer Fernando Zóbel, and he chose it as the location for the museum, located in two converted centuries-old "casas colgadas". Many of the pictures hang in glorious isolation with an entire wall for a single picture, and a few windows provide imposing views out over the gorge.
  • Archeological museum. Dedicated largely to Roman finds in the area.
  • Cathedral. Its façade is unfortunately marred by a nineteenth century attempt at remodeling, but has a beautiful Gothic interior with very detailed (and in some cases seemingly pagan) carvings. There is a near-absolute ban on photography, or even sketching, inside the cathedral, except by obtaining explicit permission, typically granted only on the basis of a portfolio.

Do

See the hanging houses by the tourist train that leaves from the Cuenca tourist office on the hour every half an hour. If you have a car you can drive to some beautiful waterfalls in another part of Cuenca.

Buy

Because of the museum and because the town is a popular place for visitors from Madrid, Cuenca has a fine collection of small art galleries. You can collect Cuenca souvenirs in the tourist center near town.

Eat

Most of the best restaurants are down below in the newer part of town, which is far less picturesque.

Alaju, Morteruelo, Ajo Arriero, Zarajos are the most typical foods

Drink

There are some lovely outdoor pubs in the old city of Cuenca. And a more trendy street in the center of town, filled with 10 to 15 clubs. There is also a massive square near this street where people hang out drinking alcohol with friends. High alcohol content liqueur named Resoli

Sleep

There is a hotel in the centre of town, its sign H O T E L can be seen from far around Cuenca in all directions. If in doubt ask at the tourist office.

  • NH Ciudad de Cuenca, Ronda de San José, 1, +34.96.9230502 [1]. This hotel is located in a new and calm residential zone, a few minutes away from from the commercial centre, the old part of town and the intercity bus and railway stations of the capital.

There are some cheap hostels in town.

  • Pension Central, Alonso Chirino 7, Ph. 969 211 511. Cheapest-priced at about 24 euros a double (also cheap is the
  • Hostal Mora, Cjón. de San Francisco 1, Ph. 969 214 138.

Both are near the town center.

In old town go to Parador [2]

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