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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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 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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!