The Hanging Houses of Cuenca and the Enchanted City

The Hanging Houses of Cuenca and the Enchanted City

Cuenca, Spain – October 14, 2011

We took a drive of about two hours east of Madrid to the town of Cuenca. We arrived at about 09:00. The sun was still not wholly shinning in the village. It was in the low 50’s when we arrived. There was a little bit of a breeze too, so the decision to wear shorts seemed ill-advised at that time!

After parking the car, we began our walk into the old section of Cuenca. We could not help but notice the 16th century Magana Tower. It is all that remains of what was once a Moorish fortress.

The 16th-century Mangana Tower in Cuenca.
An electrical box painted with the word “creo,” which means “I think.”
A panoramic view of Plaza de la Merced.

As is the norm, the primary intent of our initial walk is to get a coffee. Near the three arches, we went into the Meson los Arcos. We sat in the relative warmth and enjoyed our coffee.

The very cold beer taps in Meson los Arcos.
One of the arches with the entrance to the cathedral visible in the distance.
The building housing Meson los Arcos.

Our next aim was the Casas Colgadas (hanging houses). These are houses that date from the 14th and early 15th centuries, built at the top of a cliff. They partially hang out over the cliff, hence the name. Today, one is a restaurant, and the other two comprise the Museum of Abstract Art.

To get to the cliff-side of the hanging houses, one must use Calle Canónigos (Canon Street). It passes under some buildings on the side of the hanging houses. The construction looks today from the 14th and 15th centuries. One has to wonder if the interior is as rough as the exterior of the buildings or if some interior designer has done something truly amazing.

One of the best vantage points from which to photograph the hanging houses is from the St. Paul bridge. On the bridge, one finds hundreds of small padlocks. Each one has the name of a guy and a gal. Some of them have dates written on them too. With my limited understanding of Spanish, I believe this is a sign of a couple’s undying love.

Our first view of the Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses). in the distance is the Puente de San Pablo (St. Paul Bridge) and the Parador de Cuenca (Cuenca National Hotel).

Detail of the south side of the hanging houses.
The bridge and the parador.
Calle Canónigos (Canon Street) passes under buildings near the hanging houses.
The north side of the hanging houses.
Some locks on the St. Paul Bridge.
The hanging houses as seen from the bridge.
A panorama of the valley beside the parador.
More locks and graffiti on the bridge.
On the road below the bridge is a sign that reads, “I love you Rabih.”
Casas Colgadas de Cuenca.
The seal on the St. Paul Bridge.

Finished taking photographs from the bridge, we continued our walk, exploring Cuenca.  It is a very picturesque little town.  We found a statue depicting King Alfonso VIII (1155 – 1214), so named when he was only two years old.  Regardless, he is renown for defeating one of the Moorish caliphates in 1212.  As part of that initial reconquest,  he liberated the town of Cuenca in 1177.

Some of the houses and buildings of Cuenca.
The Romero souvenir store.
A statue commemorating Alfonso VIII (1155-1214).
A piece of stained glass.

We ultimately made it back to the Plaza Mayor.  It is a very colorful centerpiece of Cuenca.  At the west end of the plaza, one can see the city hall building.

The west end of Plaza Mayor in Cuenca.
A rainbow of colors along Plaza Mayor.
The yellow building housing Bar Latinaja.
One of the small side streets in Cuenca.
Some paintings and drawings on display outside the entrance to the Museo de Arte Abstractor Español (Museum of Spanish Abstract Art).


The first museum we went through was the Diocesan Museum. Unfortunately, photographs are not allowed inside. Regardless, there were terrific artifacts from the church dating back to the 1200s. Probably the most renown item the museum has is the original painting The Christ with the Cross by El Greco, from the late 1500s.

We then entered the Cuenca Cathedral. It was one of the best, most opulent, we have been in since we have been in Spain. I think this gives the Toledo Cathedral a run for its money. The construction of the cathedral began in the late 12th Century, soon after King Alfonso liberated Cuenca, coming to substantial completion in 1257. At one time a bell tower was part of the cathedral at the front left corner; however, it collapsed in 1902 after a lightning strike, but never rebuilt. It is unfortunate I could not take photographs inside the cathedral, both to share with the reader and to help the author remember the beauty.

The main entrance to the Cuenca Cathedral.
Detail of the arch above the entrance to the cathedral.


The Museum of Abstract Art was open when we emerged from the Cathedral, so we decided to go there. There were some pieces that we liked. Eusebio Sampere did one of them. It was titled Campos de Minbre, 1965. It is a series of horizontal lines, painted one by one with the aid of a ruler. Each line almost looks like embroidery thread. We liked it so much we bought a framed print in the museum store.

After going through the museum, I dashed back behind the museum to take some more photographs of the Casas Colgadas in a better light.

Detail of Número 460A by Luis Fieto (1963).
A wildly abstract painting.
A metal sculpture.
View of the bridge and parador from Calle Canónigos (Canon Street).
More padlocks on the bridge.
A properly lit view of the hanging houses.
The hanging houses.
The parador as seen from the bridge.

We made our way back to the Plaza Mayor. We selected the San Juan restaurant at random. They offered a meal with traditional dishes of Cuenca for 20€ (US$24). It was a six-course meal; beginning with a salad, morteruelo de Cuenca and ajo arriero de bacalao, Zarajos de cordero, sopa Castellana, costilla de cordero asado, and dessert. The morteruelo is a pate served hot. It is a mixture of rabbit, partridge, and pork liver. The ajo arriero is also a kind of pate. Served cold, the ajo arriero is notoriously difficult to digest (supposedly it can block the digestive tract of a donkey). It contains garlic, boiled potato, cod, oil, egg, and walnuts. The Zarajos is seasoned and grilled lamb tripe. All of that, including our drinks, was only 40€ (US$48)! A steal by Spanish standards!

Grilled windows on Calle Obispo Valero (Bishop Valero Street).
Police vehicles parked in Plaza Mayor.
Colorful buildings along the north side of Plaza Mayor.
The camper’s menu?
The ajo arriero de bacalao (garlic cod pâté) and the morteruelo de Cuenca (a type of pâté).
The Zarajos de cordero (a concoction of lamb tripe).
The sopa Castellana (Castilian soup).
A police officer walking across Plaza Mayor.
The costilla de cordero asado (roasted lamb rib).
…and dessert!!
The three arches leading to Plaza Mayor.
Buildings on the northern edge of Cuenca.
Plaza Mayor as viewed through one of the arches.
The south side of Plaza Mayor.
A small street beside the cathedral.
The Dulcinea Bar open for business.

Following lunch, we decided to view the ruins of the Cuenca Castle. That meant a long, uphill walk from the plaza. The ruins are of an 8th-century Moorish stronghold. Today, all that remains are two walls and the Arch of Bezudo. Regardless, from the top of the wall, one has a commanding view of the area surrounding Cuenca. I thought it was worth the walk. Leslie and Tyler may have a different opinion.

Another view of the parador.
The sign above the passageway reads, “Christ of the passageway.”
The Christ in the passageway.
Looking toward the bridge, one can see the yellow terrace of a restaurant.
An iron crucifix on the side of one of the buildings.
Walking toward the wall of a 13th-century castle wall.
The view north along the Júcar River valley.
A statue depicting Joseph and Jesus.
Across the Huécar valley, one can see a statue of Christ on the hilltop.
A statue near the 13th-century castle wall.
The arched opening through the Arch of Bezudo in the old castle wall.
View from the top of the old castle wall.
The Huécar valley.
The Júcar River valley.

We decided it was time to walk back to the car.  The following photographs are some of the things we saw while on our way.  Oh, the walk was all downhill!

A gate along our path.
A Cuenca skyline.
The entry of the Posada de San José Hostal.
St. Joseph and Jesus.
Plaza Mayor. The very light yellow building above the red car is where we decided to have lunch.
A Cuenca side street.
Walking between the buildings toward the 16th century Mangana Tower.
Another view of the Christ monument on the hilltop across the valley.
The view to the west along the Júcar River valley.
The view back to the east along the Júcar River valley.
A trail across the valley.

We made it back to the car, got in, and began our drive to the Ciudad Encantada (Enchanted City).  The site is about 25 miles north of Cuenca.  Hugging the Río Júcar and later the Río de Valdecabras, it was a beautiful drive.  We left the valley floor behind as we entered the Parque Natural de la Serranía de Cuenca (Natural Park of the Serranía of Cuenca) and began our climb to the Ciudad Encantada.

We parked across Highway CM-2104 from the entrance to the park.

Rock formations and trees at the parking area for the Ciudad Encantada (Enchanted City).


Entry to the Enchanted City was 15€ (US$18) for the three of us. The self-guided tour is about one and one-half hours long. The walk is relatively level throughout. Many of the rock formations look like sculptures from nature; such as a bear, a crocodile, a man’s face, and a snake. No, wait! The snake was real…

This site is a bit off the beaten track, but it is well worth the visit.

The entry to Ciudad Encantada (Enchanted City).
The sun behind the Tormo formation (unsure of the translation).
Hopefully, Tyler will not push the Tormo over…I cannot afford that…
Tyler admiring the huge formation.
The Tormo.
The ships formation.
Another large balanced formation.
The path winds through the various formations.
Some of the formations are quite large.
A dried thistle plant.
The man’s face formation.
The Roman bridge formation.
A path through the rocks.
The door knocker formation.
The Tyler formation.
The path toward the toboggan formation.
The tree seems to have been overtaken by the rock.
The top of one of the rock formations known as the sea stone.
This plant reminds one of a rose hip plant.
The crocodile and elephant fight formation.
Rocks and bushes.
The bear formation.
The small snake formation.
My alcohol bottles…

After our long, hot walk, we stopped at the roadside café to buy some bottled water and use the facilities before our ride back to Madrid. While I was waiting for the others, I spotted a bottle of my centenary drink…I was tempted to buy a bottle, but I stuck with the water.

Cuenca and the Enchanted City are undoubtedly our most favorite spots in Spain…so far!

One thought on “The Hanging Houses of Cuenca and the Enchanted City

  1. What a b trip. I can’t imagine how uneasy I would be in one of the houses. And the menu in the restaurant didn’t seem appealing to me. Very beautiful…thanks.

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