With everything going on, travelling is almost impossible, but the stars aligned for a tiinny bit longer than day trip – from Friday to early Sunday morning, with every precaution possible, of course. We ran away to Cuenca for a day and a fifth. As days are becoming a bit longer, when we arrived there were still a couple of hours of light left. We checked in and dropped off the car at the Parador de Cuenca. The Parador hotel chain might be more expensive than standard accommodation, but truth be told, it is upholding the strictest hygiene protocols, even though their hand disinfectants give me allergies. Truth be told, it was spectacular.
The Parador stands in a repurposed monastery, the old convent of Saint Paul, just at the edge of the historical centre of Cuenca. The hotel has a covered cloister and a newer building, and the adjoint church has been turned into an art centre.
The core of the town stands between two rivers, River Júcar and River Huécar. As the area is rich in karst – calcite rocks, which dissolve in water – the rivers have dug parallel gorges around the historical dwellings. The walled city has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the keymost point is the hanging houses, Casas Colgadas (now home to the Museum of Abstract Art). While the houses are now rather unique, they used to be the norm in the 15th century. In order to cross the Huécar gorge Hoz del Huécar, there is a(n also) hanging bridge. The bridge of Saint Paul, Puente de San Pablo, was built at the beginning of the 20th century in the typical cast-iron architecture of the time.
Looking back to the other side of the bridge, you see deceivingly high hill, Cerro del Socorro, carved out of karst. I say deceiving because when you actually look at it, you’re half-way up, and you can look down to the bottom of the gorge. At the top of the hill stands a religious pillar to the Catholic Sacred Heart, Monumento al Sagrado Corazón.
We went on walking towards Main Square and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace and Saint Julian – Catedral de Santa María y San Julián de Cuenca. The cathedral is one of the earliest Gothic buildings in Spain (although the main façade has been rebuilt in style). However, it is not the typical Spanish Gothic style, but it is more similar to the Norman buildings in the north of Europe. It was unfortunately not open for visiting though (it’s the third time I’ve been to Cuenca and I’ve never been able to walk in (≧▽≦) ).
There also stands the Ayuntamiento de Cuenca or town hall, a three-arched Baroque building erected around 1760 after the designs of the architect Jaime Bort. The building closes off the square and is the gateway to a maze of chaotic traffic of one-way streets and directing traffic lights.
We turned towards the gorge, Hoz del Júcar on the other side of the town for a view of the sunset, but the clouds seemed to be hiding it.
As we continued on, we stopped by a nun convent Convento de las Esclavas. This Catholic nun congregation leads a contemplative life and they are perpetually praying to the Eucharist – at least some of them, as apparently they bake and sell confectionery to sustain themselves. You can see a nun praying in the church, and to be honest for a second I did not realise she was there, it felt like there was a ghost all of a sudden. The building was erected between the 15th and 16th centuries.
We found the monument to a medieval king Monumento a Alfonso VIII. During the Christian and Muslim wars, the king was the one to conquer Cuenca for the Christians, and assimilated it into the Castilla crown.
Another sculpture we found was, conversely, erected to honour the traditional shepherd from one of the old streets in town, a bronze statue named Monumento al pastor de las Huesas del Vasallo and located next to the bridge.
We also got treated to some nice views as the sun came out the second we turned out backs on it.
After dinner – a really good club sandwich in my case, I walked out to take some pictures of the bridge and the hanging houses after dark, expecting them to be lit up… Which they were. I mean, I was really not expecting the green colours.
In the morning we had breakfast at the old dining room of the convent, the refrectorium, which still keeps its old allure.
Later, we headed out to the local palaeontological museum Museo de Paleontología de Castilla-La Mancha. The museum was inaugurated in 2005, recycling, so to speak, a previous building that overlooks the city of Cuenca. The museum has an inner area with some reproductions and pieces from the different palaeontological sites around the area, and several models of the animals, organised in eras.
The outer part also holds replicas, and it gives a very Jurassic World feeling for a second, when you take the view with the dinosaurs. We had booked first thing in the morning, so we were leaving when the kid-crowd started to arrive, in order to see both the extinct and the extant dinosaurs (a.m., we found a mallard minding his own business at one of the ponds).
We drove back, and unfortunately the Sat-Nav got us lost. However, we dropped the car safely off a the hotel and decided to take the plunge and walk into the museum of Spanish abstract art Museo de arte abstracto Español, home to a number of… works… by Spanish artists from the 1950s and 60s in the Hanging Houses / Casas Colgadas. I… have to admit I am not the biggest fan of abstract art, so I was not terribly impressed – I mean I had been there before and it had not imprinted on me, like at all (≧▽≦).
After the museum we headed back to the Parador for lunch and some rest – and I have to say that the curd I had tried the last time was nowhere to be found any more. Sad.
But not to be deterred, we soon moved to the city museum Museo de Cuenca, which highlights the Roman origins of the city. There are displays from Prehistory to the Middle Ages, but there is either a surprising lack of Muslim artefacts, or they were in the closed-off rooms.
After this, we wanted to check out one of the churches, and on the way we passed by a viewpoint towards the gorge Hoz del Huécar.
We also came across the “Christ in the Alleyway” or Cristo del Pasadizo, which is related to the legend of two lovers – he went to war, she stayed behind and moved on, and then everything ended in tears because how dare a woman in Christian Middle-Ages Spain try to be happy. Anyway, here’s the alleyway and the Christ figure.
After that we ended up at another museum of contemporary art, Fundación Antonio Pérez, located in another former convent built in the 17th century. Honestly? It was slightly interesting but mostly claustrophobic. The majority of rooms do not have windows whatsoever and the fact that there is a one-way itinerary due to Covid, and how dry the air was, made it stressing to an almost ridiculous level.
It was early evening when we came out, and the second we put a foot outside it started pouring, so we headed back – it also made for a few spectacular pictures.
Some cool ones were also taken on Sunday morning just before we drove off early because there was stuff to be done throughout the day.