My time in Spain as a CIEE Language and Culture Teaching Assistant was spent in the autonomous community of Castilla-La Mancha, particularly the province of Cuenca. I lived in a small town about one hour from the capital of the province, which is, coincidentally, also named Cuenca. Many of my students often talked about taking weekend trips to Cuenca for shopping, family visits, etc., so I knew it was somewhere I would enjoy. One Sunday during October, my host family took me to visit this charming city. I was so lucky to be able to go on a beautiful fall day. The colors of the leaves on the trees were really quite stunning.
We began our morning on the outskirts of the historic part of the city. In case your unfamiliar with the setup of cities in Spain, most of them have a central historic area with the newer, urbanized area surrounding it. I know, I know, it makes perfect sense for a city to be organized this way. However, I would consider the U.S. equivalent (downtown) to be very different from a historic city center. In other words if you love history, be sure to go to the city centers.
We parked the car along the bottom of a gorge. The oldest part of the city is surrounded by several gorges formed by the Júcar and Huécar rivers. After a healthy 15 minute walk, we ascended into the historic center. It was a very calm Sunday morning, and not many people were out in the streets, but we could hear some noise coming from the Plaza Mayor. FYI, someone, somewhere was playing an acoustic guitar while we were walking (I love Spain).
Our first stop in the city center was the cathedral. The Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace and Saint Julian is in the center of the city, thus making it difficult to miss. Constructed from 1182 to 1270, the cathedral is the first Gothic style Cathedral in Spain. Certain features reminded me of Notre Dame in Paris. We decided to take a tour inside the cathedral. The mid-morning positioning of the sun allowed for some remarkable stained glass reflections. We also heard the haunting melodies of the monks singing somewhere in the cathedral. It was beautiful.
Our next stop was the Museum of Abstract Arts. The museum is housed in the Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses). These buildings are what many people think of when they think of Cuenca. The houses were built in the 15th century right on the edge of the gorge. The houses now contain the museum, allowing tourists to not only enjoy the arts, but also the picturesque view across the gorge.
After enjoying the Casas Colgadas from the inside, we made our way to the Puente de San Pablo (Bridge of Saint Paul). This bridge was constructed from 1533 to 1589 over the gorge. The purpose of the bridge was to connect the city of Cuenca with the St. Paul Convent. The bridge allows a marvelous view of the Casas Colgadas.
After spending some time on the Puente de San Pablo, we headed back to the car. I was able to snap some pretty cool pictures along the way. There are lots of other things to do in Cuenca – these are just some of the highlights I want to share. So, if you ever find yourself in Castilla-La Mancha, make sure you visit Cuenca!
Have you ever been to Cuenca? If not, would you like to go? Which locations top your list? Also, if you’re interested in more of what Castilla-La Mancha has to offer, check out my post Castilla-La Mancha highlights.
“I am a passionate traveler, and from the time I was a child, travel formed me as much as my formal education.” – David Rockefeller
Photos by Megan Coffroth