Thursday, August 13, 2015

Cuenca, Spain

Cuenca

The Moors built this fortress town around 711-714 on a ridge between two gorges of the Júcar and Huécar rivers. Alphonso VIII of Castile captured this citadel, known then as Kunka, in the 12th century and renamed it Cuenca. A Christian town was born and spread down the hill. The old hill town or "upper city" became the seat of religious institutions while the lower town hosted a booming textile industry until the 16th century. 

Cuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage site. In its Justification of Inscription, the World Heritage Committee describes Cuenca thus: "It is also exceptional because the walled town blends into and enhances the fine rural and natural landscape within which it is situated".

Plaza Mayor

The Plaza Mayor is the gathering place for festivals like the nine processions preceding Easter and the concurrent celebration of Religious Festival Week. The Camino del Calvario, (Road to Calvary) procession with religious pasos (statues or images set on a float, often borne by several men on their shoulders) takes place in the early morning hours of Good Friday. These religious processions are attended by thousands of visitors every year.

Evenings lend a magical aura to the square when it is bathe in light from surrounding buildings. It's pleasurable to sit at one of the outdoor cafés or on the steps of the Cathedral and breathe it all in. 

Passageway

The narrow streets and covered passageways in Cuenca are irresistible. Though some of the streets are steep, the lure of discovering something on the "other" side is too overpowering to ignore. 

Convento de Carmelitas Descalzas/Iglesia de San Pedro

There are a number of convents and monasteries built in Cuenca from the 12th to the 16th centuries that have survived to this day. In the photo above, the Baroque Convent of the Carmelites (now Ménendez Pelayo International University) partially sits in the shadow of the Church of St. Peter on Plaza Trabuco. This is the highest point in the old town and a stone's throw from a section of the walls that are still standing today. 

Sunset leaves a rosy tinge on the rooftops of Cuenca. 

Plaza San Nicolás

This image is my favorite impression of Spain - when night gently gives pause to day. I'm sitting at a terrace overlooking this intimate little plaza where two boys are playing ball with their doting grandparents keeping watch. How simple and sweet life is in these parts. I feel at peace with my surroundings. Life is truly beautiful.

Singing of the children
In the night silence
Light of the stream, and 
Calm of the fountain!

Children
What does your heart hold,
Divine in its gladness?

Myself
A peal from the belltower
Lost in the dimness.

Children
You leave us singing
In the small plaza
Light of the stream, and
Calm of the fountain!
Federico Garcia Lorca, excerpt from Ballad of a Small Plaza


Nuestra Señora de Gracia

Moonlight becomes the Cathedral of Nuestra Seńora de Gracia on Plaza Mayor, the first Gothic cathedral built in Spain. The façade, however, was reconstructed in the 20th century after it was damaged from the collapse of the belfry in 1902.

Where to stay:


Hotel Convento del Giraldo
Calle San Pedro, 12

I love this hotel! It's right in the center of the old town and I can easily walk up Calle San Pedro to the highest point in town or walk down to Plaza Mayor to the Casas Colgadas and to the Puente de San Pablo which crosses the Huécar river.

From my room below the eaves of this 17th century former convent, I could hear the hot summer wind howling obtrusively. It made me think of the nuns who used to live here in simple accomodations. 

Where to eat:
Restaurante San Nicolás
Calle San Pedro, 15

How to get there:
Take the train from Atocha Train Station in Madrid. It takes an hour to get to Cuenca from Madrid on the fast train, over 3 hours on the regional train. Any hand carry or luggage goes through the X-ray machine, just as they do at the airport.

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie



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