Historic Centre of Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca
Historic Centre Of Santa Ana De Los Ríos De Cuenca
Cultural Ecuador Latin America And The Caribbean Province Of Azuay

Cuenca is an outstanding example of a planned inland Spanish colonial city, demonstrating the successful implantation of the principles of Renaissance urban planning in the Americas. In addition, the successful fusion of different societies and cultures in Latin America is vividly symbolized by the layout and townscape of Cuenca.

Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca is set in a valley surrounded by the Andean mountains in the south of Ecuador. This inland colonial town (entroterra), now the country's third city, was founded on the rigorous planning guidelines issued thirty years earlier by the Spanish king Charles V. Cuenca still observes the formal orthogonal town plan that it has respected for 400 years.

The town was founded in 1557, on the orders of the Viceroy Andrés Hurtado de Mendoza, on a site next to Pumpapungo. The purpose was to turn it into an agricultural centre, as the conditions of the surrounding plains were favourable for farming and stock-raising. The aim was also to establish an administrative centre for the numerous Indian populations in this Andean region.

The town of Cuenca developed slowly, because it was hampered for a long time by its initial layout, and remained a centre for agricultural production. It incorporated a succession of architectural contributions, in keeping with its urban fabric and character as a colonial town. This situation continued until political independence from the Spanish Crown in 1820.

At the same time, the various populations and cultures intermingled. During the second half of the 19th century, the town went through a manufacturing phase, particularly the production of quinine and straw hats. This development enabled it to become relatively richer, and it was accompanied by the construction of some more important buildings, including the University of Cuenca in 1867.

Owing to its geographical isolation, Cuenca had a coherent urban profile until 1950. However, this was followed by the threats of urban expansion and transformations resulting from pressure exerted by real-estate promotion and new social requirements. An Urban Development Plan for the Metropolitan Area of Cuenca was adopted in 1982 to safeguard the image of the town and to restore several buildings.

The Andean mountain chains have allowed the town to maintain close contact with its natural environment over a long period. It is laid out on a strict grid of perpendicular streets stretching from the Main Square, the Abdón Calderón Park, to form a total of 200 blocks.

The seat of the Town Council, the Office of the Governor, two cathedrals, and the Law Courts are ranged around the Main Square. The paved streets are wide and sunlit. The urban fabric is noteworthy for the presence of parks, squares, church cloisters and other public areas.

Many of the simple colonial houses have been converted into more important residences, especially during the period of expansion. The result is an unusual architecture incorporating various influences, both local and European. A few important edifices are worthy of mention, such as the New Cathedral, begun in 1880, the Old Cathedral, the Carmelite Monastery and the Church of Santo Domingo.