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The blue domes of Catedral de la Inmaculada (the New Cathedral) are iconic of Cuenca

Catedral de la Inmaculada

About the City of Cuenca

Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador but for many it holds first place in the hearts of visitors and citizens alike. It has a colonial center full of stunning architecture of local-quarried travertine, well-kept parks and venerable churches. There are cobblestone streets, flowering plazas and pastel-colored buildings with old wooden doors and ironwork balconies. Cuenca was name a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999.


Cuenca was originally a Cañari settlement (approximately AD 500 to 1480), long before the Spanish conquistadors’, or even the Incas’, arrival. Then it was known as Guapondelig. When the Incas conquered the Cañari , they changed its name to Tumibamba (or Tumipampa, The Plain of the Knife). They intended it to be the Cuzco of the north. If you follow Calle Larga southeast along the Tomebamba River near the junction of Calle Tomás Ordoñez with Calle Larga, you will come to the ruins of Todos Santos. There you will find four Inca trapezoidal mortarless stonework niches. The stones are believed to be taken from Inca buildings in Peru and brought north to construct Tumibamba.

In 1532, the Incas retreated north to avoid Sebastián de Benalcázar and his army.  The Spanish changed its name again when they vanquished the Inca in 1557. Only this time the name stuck. Cuenca’s full name is “Santa Ana de los Cuatro Ríos de Cuenca” or “Saint Anne of the Four Rivers of Cuenca.” Cuenca means “river basin or bowl” in Spanish and is situated at 8,335 feet on the banks of Río Tomebamba.

Catedral Viejoa (Old Cathedral) began construction along the east side of the main plaza, Parque Calderón, the year Cuenca was founded. Over time the city outgrew this cathedral and began construction on Catedral Nueva, or Catedral de la Inmaculada, in 1880. Catedral de la Inmaculada was designed to hold 10,000 people in its 141-foot wide interior. The architect miscalculated, however, on the weight that the towers would support and so were never completed at the anticipated height of 351 feet (105 meters), which would have made it the largest church in South America.