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Spain: Cuenca old town

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Cuenca old town > Spain > Europe

[Visited: June 2019]

When I walk from the bus station of the new part of Cuenca to the old town, it feels like an ordinary Spanish town. As soon as I see the remains of the city walls rise before my eyes, I know that this is, of course, not the case. Cuenca has World Heritage status for a reason. After leaving my bag in a hostel at the foot of the old town, I buy some things at the local market, and climb the stairs into the old town. Calle Alfonso VIII, named after the liberator of Cuenca in the late 12th century, is lined with colourful houses, and after walking through an arched gate, I reach the Plaza Mayor with its remarkable cathedral. The Giraldo, the bell tower, collapsed in 1902, and even though it was constructed right after the Moors were defeated, it has a new facade. I postpone a visit, and continue to the north of the old town, where I find the old city gate and remains of the castle wall. The Arabs built a castle here in the 8th century, Qunka, which according to some is where the name of the city comes from. Others say it is from conca, meaning river basin in Latin. In any case, not much is left of the castle as it was destroyed by the French in the 19th century during the War of Independence.

Picture of Cuenca old town (Spain): Iglesia de San Pedro, a hexagonal building, can be found in the north side of Cuenca

Walking around the Convento Carmelitas, I get good views over the Huécar river below and the Cerro Socorro on the east of Cuenca. It is from here that I see how precariously Cuenca has been built on the edge of the steep cliffs rising straight from the river below. I hike small trails over the rocks, to a viewpoint between trees, and walk back the main street in the Barrio del Castillo. After entering the old town again through the old city gate, I walk down to the western part of Cuenca. The ridge on which the town is built runs roughly north-south, so the afternoon is best spent on the west side. I walk down stairs, past the Iglesia de San Miguel, and descend to the Ermita de la Virgen de las Angustias, a quiet chapel at the foot of the cliffs on which Cuenca is built. I walk up the stairs again, making a loop through the narrow streets of Cuenca with their colourful houses, and walk a loop that brings me down to the Júcar river, which defines the west side of Cuenca. High above me, perched on the edge of the cliffs, tower tall buildings. Both sides of the old town are perched on the edge of cliffs - this must be one of the most spectacularly located towns of Spain. I walk down the river, cross it, and find a trail leading to a viewpoint of Cuenca where I wait to see the light on the old town get warmer. Back in the old town, I walk up to the Plaza Mayor again, just in time to see the afternoon sun shine its light on the Cathedral.

Picture of Cuenca old town (Spain): Colourful buildings in Calle Alfonso VIII

The next morning starts with rain, so I postpone my plan to hike up to the Cerro de Socorro until patches of blue sky appear. I find a steep trail going straight to the Jesus statue on top, and when I arrive, the sun sends its first rays of light to the skyscrapers of the old town. For the first time, I now see the hanging houses for which Cuenca is famous. I descend the official Via Crucis with the stations, until I reach the Convento de San Pablo, where I cross the San Pablo bridge, enjoying the views of the houses and the old town rising straight from the gorge. One of the hanging houses is a Museum of Spanish Abstract Art and turns out to be a fantastic blend of modern art in the setting of a 15th century building. Next: the Cathedral, which turns out to be a rich mixture of Gothic, Rococo, Baroque and other styles, in an Anglo-Norman style building because the wife of Alfonso VIII was half English, half French. Despite its old age, new elements continue to be added; for example, the stained glass windows were installed in the 1990s. The temple is enormous, and the treasures in the adjacent museum underline the rich heritage of this Castilian town. In the afternoon, I walk the trail to the Ermita de San Julián, on the west side of Cuenca, walking high above the old town. The next morning. I walk up the Cerro de Socorro once more, before sunrise, and see the light reach the tops of the roofs, the skyscrapers, the old town and its cliffs as the sun rises. I walk the old town for the last time, this time all alone as the tour buses are still on their way to Cuenca. I am happy I decided for a longer stay - Cuenca has plenty to offer apart from its truly spectacular setting.

Picture of Cuenca old town (Spain): View of the old town with the hanging houses and skyscrapers from the Cerro de Socorro on the east of Cuenca
Picture of Cuenca old town (Spain): View of the old town with cathedral from the east side of Cuenca
Picture of Cuenca old town (Spain): Early morning view of the skyscrapers in the old town of Cuenca
Picture of Cuenca old town (Spain): City gate and wall of the ruined castle of Cuenca
Picture of Cuenca old town (Spain): View over the Iglesia de San Miguel, on the west side of Cuenca
Picture of Cuenca old town (Spain): Looking up the buildings on the west side of the old town of Cuenca
Picture of Cuenca old town (Spain): Heavily decorated roof in a hanging house of Cuenca
Picture of Cuenca old town (Spain): View of the hanging houses of Cuenca
Picture of Cuenca old town (Spain): Part of the old town of Cuenca seen from the mountain on the west of the city
Picture of Cuenca old town (Spain): Street in Cuenca with colourful houses
Picture of Cuenca old town (Spain): The cathedral of Cuenca seen from its southwestern corner
Picture of Cuenca old town (Spain): View of the hanging houses and the cathedral in the early morning
Picture of Cuenca old town (Spain): Ermita de las Angustias, below the old town on the west side

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