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Cuenca

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The city of Cuenca was officially founded by the Spaniard Gil Ramírez Dávalos in 1557 on the ruins of the former Inca city known as "Tomebamba." He baptized it "Santa Ana de Los Cuatro Ríos" for the four rivers that converged there: Río Machangara, Río Tomebamba, Río Yanuncay and Río Tarquí. Cuenca, the capital of the province of Azuay, is the third largest city in Ecuador with a population of 355,000. Today, the many colonial buildings that border its old paved streets give it a charming ambience. Cuenca is situated at the heart of the valley of Guapondelig. At an altitude of 2,500m (8,202ft), it enjoys a spring-like climate all year round with relatively cool evenings and mornings.

The city's many museums and baroque churches create a serene atmosphere that inspires reverie and meditation. Even just shopping and strolling through the innumerable crafts shops that add life to the streets could easily fill days on end.

Ecuadorans' accents differ according to their city or region. This difference is especially noticeable here. The Cuencanos have an image, somewhat like that of the Marseillais in France, as a people who do not really speak their language, but rather sing it.

The Nueva Catedral ** (Parque Abdón Calderón) is emblematic of the city. This pink marble religious building dominates a large part of the surrounding park by virtue of its gigantic proportions. The construction of this enormous Gothic Revival cathedral began around 1880 and was never completed. Legend states that a mathematical mistake in the original plans produced a curious result; the bells intended for the towers were at one time lined up at the entrance of the cathedral because the towers were not solid enough to support them.

Come nightfall, the huge blue domes are lit up, creating an image of ethereal beauty. The interior is composed of three naves and is ornamented by a series of arches supported by columns. The floor is made with marble from Cuenca, except for the central aisle which is paved with marble imported from Italy. The most impressive part of the cathedral is the superb canopy resting on four columns above the high altar. Seemingly sheltering the crucified Christ there, it's marvelously sculpted of wood and covered in gold leaf. Along the walls are beautiful stained-glass windows, some imported from Europe and others made in Cuenca. They diffuse the warm glow of daylight into the cathedral.

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