We made it up all those steps! Now we’re at Calle Larga (Long Street). If we head left for about 3 blocks and turn right, we can take an angled street up to the heart of El Centro and arrive at Parque Calderon. This square block park was modeled on Versailles and once hosted bull fights. It is like a wagon wheel with spokes radiating to the edges. Always a busy place, people mill about, sit on benches and people watch. A few vendors have their wares on carts.
The buildings around the park show off the history of Cuenca. On one side is the Old Cathedral, now an historical museum. It was constructed in 1557 over some Inca ruins. A pipe organ proudly sits on an upper balcony and was reached (no longer by the public) via a circular staircase. I’ve been told that this organ hasn’t sounded in 100 years. What a shame.
Let’s cross the square to the New Cathedral. Ground for this active cathedral was broken in 1885 and the building completed in 1975. Due to an architect’s structural error, the towers are truncated, as they can not hold any more weight. However, three giant domes in striking blue and white glazed Czechoslovakian tile hover over the cathedral and have become the city’s visual apex. Inside, the profusion of gold on the baldacchino glares against my camera. Gold has been mined here since the days of the Incas. To my dismay, this cathedral lacks a pipe organ.
Crossing to another corner, we will find my favorite building, the Palace of Justice or the old courthouse, constructed in classic French architectural style. It was originally built for the University of Azuay, Cuenca’s province. Today, it is used as an educational school for the legal profession. There is an art exhibition on the first floor, but if we walk up to the second and third floors, we will see that this building is designed around an open courtyard, gaping to the elements in one section. I hope you will be as dazzled by this interior as I have been.
Wandering around El Centro, we will see a number of plazas. Cuenca has not skimped on open spaces, be they plazas or parks. Near the square is the Plaza de las Flores (Flower Mart), overflowing with beautiful fresh flowers. We can choose from prearranged bouquets or create our own. Let’s go a little further to the Plaza de San Francisco where the traditional Latin town name is spelled out in large letters. It is customary to have your picture taken in front of the letters, and if I have to do it, so will you. Around this plaza are many vendors, selling clothing, household goods, ceramics, ironwork, chinaware, rugs, and the list goes on. The scene is colorful with the Cathedral towers looming over.
If we have the time, we can just wander up and down the cobblestone, one- way streets and view all the little stores and restaurants. You will be amazed at how many of these hole-in-the-wall stores exist and, with so many, how they all stay in business. Maybe we’ll take this walk another day.
Fact: For a flavor of El Centro: https://youtu.be/a4bh5z3uG-M 18 minutes
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