Gorge of the Huécar River
|Autonomous community||Castile-La Mancha|
|o Mayor (2011)||Darío Dolz (PSOE)|
|o Total||911.06 km2 (351.76 sq mi)|
|Elevation||946 m (3,104 ft)|
|o Density||60/km2 (160/sq mi)|
|Time zone||UTC+1 (CET)|
|o Summer (DST)||UTC+2 (CEST)|
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.
When the Iberian peninsula was part of the Roman Empire, there were several important settlements in the province, such as Segobriga, Ercavica and Gran Valeria. However, the place where Cuenca is located today was uninhabited at that time.
When the Muslims 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 for 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 for military support. The first Christian troops entered the city in 1093. However, the Almoravids captured it in 1108. Their governor in the city declared independence in 1144, followed by the whole of 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 seven-year 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 starting from 1177's Epiphany. The city's commander, Abu Bakr, again sought the support of Yaqub Yusuf, but the latter was in Africa and did not send any help. After an unsuccessful Cuenca sortie against the Christian camp on 27 July, the besieged city was conquered by Alfonso's troops on 21 September 1177, while the Muslim garrison took refuge in the citadel.
The latter fell in October, putting an end to 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 loyal). 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 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, Eleanor, had French cultural affinity.
During the 18th 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 19th 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 20th century began with the collapse of the Giraldo cathedral's tower in 1902, which affected also the façade. It had to be rebuilt by Vicente Lámperez, with two new twin towers at both ends of the façade, which have remained unfinished without the upper part of them.
The first decades of the 20th 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 the area suffered a major economic decline, 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.
In recent decades the city has experienced a moderate growth in population and economy, the latter 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 recent years, new cultural infrastructure such as the municipal Concert Hall and the Science Museum saw Cuenca unsuccessfully apply for the title of European Capital of Culture in 2016.
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 of 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 during the day with occasional cool nights. Spring and autumn seasons are short, with pleasant temperatures during the day but with rather cold nights due to its altitude from 956 m (3,136 ft) above sea level up to 1,000 m (3,281 ft) in the old town.
|Climate data for Cuenca 948 m (1981-2010)|
|Record high °C (°F)||22.6
|Average high °C (°F)||9.7
|Daily mean °C (°F)||4.6
|Average low °C (°F)||-0.5
|Record low °C (°F)||-17.8
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||40
|Average precipitation days||7||6||6||8||8||5||2||3||5||8||7||8||71|
|Average snowy days||2||2||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||9|
|Average relative humidity (%)||73||67||60||60||56||48||41||45||55||67||73||76||60|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||154||162||211||206||258||309||357||329||246||188||151||136||2,707|
|Source: Agencia Estatal de Meteorología|
|UNESCO World Heritage Site|
|Criteria||Cultural: ii, v|
|Inscription||1996 (20th session)|
|Buffer zone||170.49 ha|
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 King Henry II of England and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, 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.
With Romanesque origins, the church of St. Peter (San Pedro in Spanish) 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.
The Church of Saint Michael (Iglesia de San Miguel in Spanish) 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 wooden ceiling of the two naves was replaced with stone 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).
Built in Neo-Gothic style during the 18th century, with only one nave and a high tower. It shows a modest baroque façade 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".
The bridge of Saint Paul (Puente de San Pablo) was built from 1533 to 1589, a construction driven by the canon Juan del Pozo, over the gorge of the River Huecar, 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 iron according to the style dominating at the beginning of the 20th century. It is up to 40 metres high and supported by the remains of the old bridge.
The Seminary (Seminario), a rectangular building stretching from Plaza de la Merced to Mangana Square, was established under the rule of José Flores y Osorio, the Bishop of Cuenca (1738-1759), and built by Vicente Sevill, around 1745. The Baroque façade at Plaza de la Merced was erected 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.
Now an average of 10-15 future priests are trained there, according to statistics of the Spanish Episcopal Conference.[dead link]
The convent of Saint Paul 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 friars, 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 in 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.
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 Peninsular War, 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.
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.
The origins of the Mangana Tower remain unclear. In 1565 it was painted by Anton van den Wyngaerde, 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.
The central arch is the only one giving access to vehicles to Plaza Mayor.
Built over a rock above the Huecar River gorge in the 15th century, Las Casas Colgadas are the only remaining samples of this type of building which was common in this city a long time ago.
Hanging Houses can be considered the most famous civil buildings 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.
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 gorge) and turn right after 5 km (3 mi), approx.
The provincial council's seat (Diputación provincial de Cuenca) is a building with 2 floors built at the early 20th century according to a project conceived by provincial architect Rafael Alfaro. Cuenca's coat of arms at the façade is made of Carrara marble.
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.
The city is served by the Cuenca Railway Station. It is a popular day or weekend trip from Madrid, to which it is very well connected. On 2010 December 19 a new AVE (high-speed rail) link was established between Madrid - Atocha and Valencia and some of them stops at the Cuenca - Fernando Zobel station, providing travellers with frequent connections every day with both Madrid and Valencia, reducing the journey time to only 50 minutes to/from Madrid and one hour to/from Valencia. RENFE also operates a non high-speed service taking 3 hours going from Madrid. Auto Res, a bus operator, links Madrid to Cuenca with a 2-hour or 2½-hour trip duration. The A-40 motorway, recently completed, connects the city with the A-3 at Tarancón, 82 kilometres (51 mi) away from Madrid, thus totalling 166 kilometres (103 mi) to Spain's capital, and 200 kilometres (120 mi) far from Valencia, via the A-3 in the opposite sense.
The following are typical dishes from the Cuenca area, being basically the result of combining those of Serranía and Mancha areas:
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 ice cubes or directly drunk from a "porrón" after a meal.