“Night is the other half of life, and the better half.” ~Goethe
Considered to be the greatest German literary figure of the modern era, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and many expats have similar feelings about the nighttime. Goethe made his comment before electricity, those his feelings about when darkness falls hold true today.
Paris may be called “The City of Lights,” but Cuenca can give the French capital a run for its money. El Centro with its architectural beauty is always lit up to showcase its proud history.
It is a photographer’s dream to be in El Centro at night. There are the obvious buildings that everyone gets near Parque Calderón such as the La Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción (New Cathedral) with its gorgeous blue cupolas and Corte Superior de Justicia, designed by Quito architect Francisco Espinosa Acevedo for the University of Cuenca.
For those looking beyond the obvious and overphotographed, one needs to leave the very center of El Centro. Walk slowly, and you can experience life through your camera. Cuenca is always full of delightful surprises.
Vincent Van Gogh said, “I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” The Dutch Impressionist painter seems to be right about El Centro being more alive. It could be our other senses that take up the slack from it being a lot less light or if the city is truly more vibrant. Maybe both.
A good example is the green neon light glowing on Calle Juan Montalvo that beckoned to be captured on camera. The primitive, lone sign, hanging on the side of the building, was trying to entice people to stay at Hotel Las Gardenias. It is certainly not the star of El Centro, but its unique qualities make it very photographic.
Calling this glowing green light in the heart of El Centro a neon light is a misnomer as it is filled with krypton gas. Neon was the first gas used to make light (which is red). That is why all gas-filled tubes are now called neon lights. The very first neon sign used for advertising in the U.S. was introduced 97 years ago.
Calle Mariscal Sucre, with its gorgeous architecture in the dim light is a delightful and soothing scene. A traffic light shone a bright red next to the panadería (bakery). The iconic blue domes of the New Cathedral were a bright blue beacon above the rooftops.
The domes are not normally shot from this angle as it does not give one a total view of the cathedral. The goal with this photo was to make the domes to be the “icing on top of the cake” for the historic buildings on Mariscal Sucre.
The gentleman in front of the jewelry store was inspired by “The Family of Man.” It was conceived as an exhibition for MoMA in New York in 1955 and became an ambitious exhibition of 503 photographs from 68 countries curated by the Luxembourgish American photographer Edward Steichen.
“The Family of Man showed life in ways most people do not notice. Many times, it is something simple. That included this man, who was reading what was on his smartphone. Using the light in the store behind him to separate him from the darkness, I was able to catch the glow of his phone on his face. You can see his concentration from the light emitting from his handheld device.
How can you not fall in love with Cuenca? There are an infinite number of great shots to be had. And nighttime gives you a totally different perspective on the city. A good example is Av. Fray Vicente Solano (Expats just say Solano).
Fray Vicente Solano (1791-1865) was a debater, orator, theologian, and writer. He helped found Cuenca’s first newspaper, with the Echo of the Azuay. This major north-south street is named after this famous man.
It took on its current characteristics of an avenue with two three-lane roads and a tree-lined walk in the center, following the concept of urbanism called Garden City (Initiated in 1898 by Sir Ebenezer Howard). Some say Champs-Élysées was the inspiration for this beautiful street.
At night, Solano has a totally different look. It is a lot less crowded, and the lights add a sparkle to the boulevard. Venture south of el Centro to get this different perspective of Cuenca at night. Most consider it a safe street to be on during the evening. Just be aware of your surroundings as you get your nighttime photos.
Christmas is too sparkly… said no one ever.
Cuenca is extra special at Christmastime. Like many cities, it lights up for the holiday. The city does it with style and lots of “energy.” It was reported in 2021 there were about 300,000 lights throughout the city to celebrate Christmas. That number seems to keep increasing every year, making this time of year even more special.
Lights and lit figures have been placed in many places of El Centro for all to enjoy. There is a “Luminous Route” that is more than five kilometers long and goes along Calle Simón Bolívar from Park San Blas (on the eastside of El Centro) to Plaza de San Sebastián (on the westside of El Centro). The route goes down the numerous steps to Plaza El Otorongo. It follows El Río Tomebamba to Plazoleta Cruz Del Vado, Plaza de San Francisco, and Parque Calderón.
The country’s tallest Christmas tree is a must. It may be man made, but it is quite impressive at night. Cuenca rotates its location every Christmas. In 2020, it was at Plaza de San Francisco. Add the smells of food from the numerous street vendors, and it was like a mini-Christmas. The public square was a peaceful scene with a giant “Tiempo De Paz” sign near the plaza’s water fountain.
Make your way down to El Río Tomebamba. Enjoy the lit blue stars at Bajada del Padrón. Watch the lit fish jumping out of the river everywhere. Sprinkle some animals throughout the area, and it became a great way to end your walking photographic tour.
Cuenca will certainly brighten things up for you.
And it will leave a little sparkle wherever you go… at night.
Do you have a favorite haunt to view Cuenca’s lights? Would love to hear it in the comments below or in our Cuenca Yapas & Friends Facebook Group.
Photos by Stephen Vargha
Stephen Vargha’s new book about Cuenca, “Una Nueva Vida – A New Life” is available at Amazon in digital and paperback formats.