Becoming Cuenca

Vista Panorámica: Bird’s Eye View

Sep 15, 2022

“In a bird’s eye view you tend to survey everything and decide on a particular point, then you swoop down and pick it up. In a worm’s eye view you don’t have that advantage of looking at everything.” ~Muhammad Yunus

Well…

It’s true what the Bangladeshi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for founding the Grameen Bank, said!

There is so much to see in Cuenca from Wormie’s perspective but having a view from about 40 meters above the ground gives one an opportunity to capture my hometown’s elegance from a different perspective.

An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone, is not needed to see Cuenca from high above. There is no need to spend $500 for an entry-level camera drone. Besides, you can do it with your own eyes and not with a video monitor.

For just two U.S. dollars, you can get a great view from high above. To get to this lovely view, you have to take the alleyway between Calle Padre Aguirre and Calle Benigno Malo. The alleyway goes between La Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción (New Cathedral) and the old seminary.

Closer to Benigno Malo is an entrance to the great view from Mirador de las Cúpulas. Just inside the entranceway is a woman who will collect your money before proceeding upwards.

While following the tourism police around last month for one of my articles for the online English-speaking newspaper, CuencaHighLife, I spiraled my way to the top of the cathedral. One of the police officers kept looking back to see if this old man was still in motion to get to the top or if I had made a pit stop to take in some of the thin mountain air.

I had no troubles at the time, even though I was taking photos as we climbed our way to the top of the New Cathedral. Those troubles happened when I got home as my muscles made sure to tell me what I had done a few hours earlier (I did not know I had those muscles!).

Looking towards the east gives you a great view of Parque Calderón. The love of greenspaces and parks in my hometown started with the founding of the Spanish city with what is now called Parque Calderón. Bounded by four streets (Simón Bolívar, Benigno Malo, Antonio José de Sucre, and Luis Cordero), this central square and park is a vibrant and beautiful place to be.

It is named for Abdón Calderón, the 18-year-old native of Cuenca, who died heroically as a result of wounds received at the Battle of Pichincha in 1822. Despite having received four bullet wounds, Calderón continued in battle, encouraging his entire battalion, and continuing to carry the flag before dying.

Until the other day, I had never personally seen the eight Araucaria trees in Parque Calderón from a high perspective. These eight magnificent trees were a gift to President Luís Cordero in 1875. The tree grows to a height of 50 meters / 150 feet in the cordilleras of Chile.

They are probably about that height in Parque Calderón. In the wild, the trees can live up to a thousand years. Unfortunately, some of them are really struggling despite intervention by the city.

A major redesign of the park was made in 2001. The formal gardens and old gazebo were reincorporated into the central square. The walkways were replaced, and brand-new lighting was installed to highlight this park’s beautiful features.

During the Christmas season, the park is a glorious and festive place to be at night as thousands of holiday lights adorn the square (Joanna and I can’t wait for this Christmas!).

Of the attractions inside the city limits, Parque Calderón is the third most popular place to visit on TripAdvisor’s list. This is impressive for a greenspace. For residents of the cities, including retirees, the park is a great place to watch people and just relax, letting time go by.

Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Beauty perishes in life, but is immortal in art.” What an architect creates is art. And it is abundant and varied in Cuenca, especially in historic El Centro. There are so many beautiful churches visible from the top of the New Cathedral. That includes one of our favorites that can be seen towards the northwest: Iglesia Católica de Santo Domingo.

Though it looks older than it is, the replacement church was completed 95 years ago, after twenty years of construction. Eight years later, it was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary hence its other name: Iglesia Católica Santísimo Rosario. It is the largest family church in the city.

Joanna and I considered this church to be one of the most beautiful in the city. The façade that faces the square and Calle Padre Aguirre has two symmetrical bodies in the neoclassical style, topped by a tympanum, which in turn is crowned by the sculpture of Santo Domingo. A tympanum is the semi-circular or triangular decorative wall surface over an entrance or window, which is bounded by a structural horizontal block and an arch.

The interior has the typical display of a basilica as it has three naves. All the confessionals and religious icons are original. On the side walls that enclose the church space, there are important minor altars. There are twelve columns supporting the roof. We noticed that the church’s windows are not large so the light that enters the church is rather subdued.

Needless to say, the New Cathedral is one of the most visited spots in Cuenca. The cathedral is regarded as a symbol of religious architecture in the city. Construction of this religious building began in 1885, according to the plan made by the German-born friar Juan Bautista Stiehle.

The predominant style of architecture is Romanesque Revival. The domes are covered in blue and white glazed tile that was made in Czechoslovakia. The stained-glass windows were created by a Spanish artist and made with antique glass that came from France.

For a variety of reasons, it took almost 100 years in order to be completed. Some still consider the building unfinished as the original plans included two taller towers on the façade which were never built because of an engineering error. It was found the foundation of the church was not strong enough to support the planned height. It could have buckled if the towers had been built.

There is so much to admire while up top. From the domes and peaks of the New Cathedral to the churches beyond to the many tiled roofs of Cuenca to our beloved Cajas mountains, I hope these photos give you a good idea of why Joanna and I love this great city.

Another bird’s eye is just a mere 439 steps away!

Upwards, that is.

These steps are not for the faint of heart. From what I can tell from a topographical map, it is an 80 meters / 262 feet vertical rise from the first step to our last one at Mirador de Turi. To put it another way, Joanna and I have walked up the equivalent of a 32-story office building.

Iglesia Católica de la Santísima Virgen de La Merced de Turi (How’s that for a church name?) is the beacon on the hill. It can easily be seen from our departamento (condo) and from many parts of the city. Our guess is that this religious building dates from the early-1930s and was built by Padre Guambaña.

Inside, on the main altar is the image of the Virgen de la Merced, patron saint of the parish. It was made in Spain about 95 years ago. In a secondary altar on the left there is a set of Calvary with the image of the Lord of Bethlehem. And in another altar is an image of the Virgin of the Cloud. It is said that there are three identical images by the sculptor Daniel Alvarado. One is found in Azogues (Cañar province), another in Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Merced (Quito), and the third is here in Turi.

Mirador de Turi literally means “Lookout of Turi.” It is a very popular destination not just for tourists, but for the residents of the city. To be fair to you, most opt to get to Turi via taxi or bus. The two of us like the exercise and challenge so we usually walk to the top.

Renovations to Mirador de Turi are almost complete. My governmental source told me the City of Cuenca wants to have it completed by the anniversary of its independence, which is an official national holiday. This holiday honors the city of Cuenca’s declaration of independence on November 3, 1820.

According to Paúl Pañi, president of GAD Parroquial de Turi, this project was proposed several years ago, but due to “resource problems,” it had not been possible to execute.

The “regeneration” includes the improvement of approximately 4,000 square meters / 43,055 square feet, which is very close to an acre of land. Currently, Mirador de Turi has very limited space, so an underground infrastructure is being built. There will be a cafeteria and space for the sale of handicrafts. Cuenca is investing around $1,700,000, funded by the Development Bank of Ecuador.

Pañi is very excited about this project as he exclaimed, “Turi is the balcony of Cuenca. This is a project that will allow our people, our tourists, to enjoy a safe place, an adequate space, worthy of loving and loving it.”

At 4.4 meters / 14 feet above the ground, it is not quite a bird’s eye view, but it is higher than being on the ground: a double-decker bus. It is an affordable way to view the city. That is one of the ways to get to Turi without exerting yourself (Remember: Cuenca is 2,560 meters / 8,400 feet above sea level). You get an entirely different view of the city from up top of the London style buses. Two companies offer the bus tours seven days a week.

Tickets can be purchased at the buses that start on the east side of Plaza Abdón Calderón. The tour includes information about museums and other attractions as you ride about town. If you stay on the bus the entire time, it is just short of two hours.

Buses start operating at 10 a.m. and run until 7:00 p.m. They take a one-hour break in the middle of the day. The double-decker bus will stop and pick you up almost anywhere:

 

  • Parque Calderón
  • Calle Bolívar
  • Parque San Sebastián
  • Plaza del Otorongo
  • Museo del Sombrero
  • Calle Larga
  • Ruinas de Pumapungo
  • Banco Central
  • Museo Pumapungo
  • Av. Huayna Cápac
  • Av. 12 de Abril
  • Puente Roto
  • Iglesia del Vergel
  • Av. Solano
  • Universidad de Cuenca
  • Colegio Benigno Malo
  • Tres Puentes
  • Mirador de Turi
  • Mall del Rio
  • Av. Loja

 

A word of warning for topside visitors: Watch out for low-hanging wires and tree branches. Seriously. This is Latin America and there are numerous low hanging wires. Only stand up to take pictures when there are no obstructions. Oh. Because this is Cuenca, you will experience all types of weather. There is a decent chance for some precipitation. If that happens, go to the lower level of the bus.

I hope this vista panorámica, bird’s eye view entices you to travel to three degrees south. As Henry Miller said, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

Oh!

By the way, you can fly a drone in Ecuador. It can only be flown during the day and in good weather conditions with clear visibility.  It has to fly below 400 feet, with you having direct visibility.  You are not supposed to fly closer than 9 kilometers / 5.5 miles from all airports, though my good American friend says he can fly his drone in El Centro as it is not in the flight path (The New Cathedral is only 6,000 feet from the approach to Aeropuerto Mariscal La Mar de Cuenca).

A lot more information on life in Cuenca can be found in my book, “Una Nueva Vida – A New Life.” Some say it is the most thorough book out there concerning moving to and living in this beautiful city.

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Salud, mi amigos.

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