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Cuenca’s French Route: A Story To Be Told

Every big passion in history has elements in common which allow them to deeply touch those who learn about them: love, beauty, enthusiasm devotion. Like two people finding each other and fusing their lives together beyond the limits of time and space, the history of two cultures encountering each other can also have the hint of a passionate love, and this is the case of Cuenca and France.

We invite you to join us on a fascinating tour which explores the origins and development of a friendship that marked the life of a city forever. A relationship based on keeping customs alive and the architecture of people who love their traditions.

Join us to discover the shades of the first encounter between these two cultures when the First Geodesic French Mission arrived in Cuenca in 1739. This scientific expedition supported by the Science Academy of Paris was in charge of measuring a land meridian to establish the exact shape of the Earth. Later on, we will explore the reasons why after one century this relationship became fruitful with continual revamping, almost changing the colonial face of Cuenca.

The French route is much more than a touristic ride. It is a trip through time and space. Where history, life experiences, anecdotes, beauty and tradition meet. Together we will learn about the essence of a city full of patrimonial richness, both material and intangible. Welcome to Cuenca’s French Route!

LA CONDAMINE STREET

Estimated time of visit: 15 min

Location: This street is located between Tarqui street and Cruz del Vado square.

This street was named after Carlos Maria de la Condamine, an illustrious scientist who was a member of the First Geodesic French Mission which arrived in Cuenca in 1739. According to historical data, he lived on this street during his visit to the city. Nowadays the street is one of the main attractions of a popular neighborhood known as El Vado. This elegant and traditional area evokes memories from a splendid time when it was the center of the most traditional crafts in the city and the place where meetings of famous poets and musicians were held. The houses of this place were built mostly following a republican style and some still keep charming surprises, such as antique hat repair shops and traditional barber’s shops.

[color-box color=”gray”]Points Of Interest:

-Repair shops specialized in straw hats.

-Traditional barber’s shops.

-Cruz del Palo Café: Business Hours: Monday to Thursday from 9h30 to 13h00 and 15h00 to 19h00; Friday and Saturday from 9h00 to 20h00. Address: 12-108 La Condamine street.

-La Condamine Museum House: Business Hours: Monday to Saturday from 10h00 to 19h00. Free entrance. Address: 12-112 La Condamine street.

-Prohibido Cultural Center: Business Hours: Monday to Saturday from to 21h00. Entrance Fee: USD 2.00. Address: 12-102 La Condamine street.

-Shop School: Business Hours: Monday to Friday from 8h00 to 13h00 and from 15h00 to 18h00. Free entrance. Address: 12-134 La Condamine street[/color-box]

PARQUE SAN SEBASTIAN

Estimated time of visit: 15 min

Location: Coronel Talbot between Simon Bolivar and Mariscal Sucre streets.

Miguel Leon square, better known as San Sebastian, due to the church located right beside it,  was one of the two “Indian Parishes” (places were indigenous people gathered for their religious services) of the colonial city. The geometrical layout of the plaza belongs to the beginning of the XX century and was done by Octavio Cordero Palacios, teacher, playwright, lawyer and mathematician born in Cuenca. The design of renaissance style is based on the Versailles gardens done by landscaper André Le Notre. During a popular rising caused by a bullfight organized in this square, Juan Seniergues, doctor of the First Geodesic French Mission, was sadly killed in August 1739.

[color-box color=”gray”]Points Of Interest:

-Municipal Museum of Modern Art: Business Hours: Monday to Friday from 9h00 to 17h00; Saturday from 9h00 to 13h00. Free entrance

-Guillermo Larrazabal Gallery: Business Hours: Monday to Friday from 10h00 to 13h00 and from 15h30 to 18h00. / Free entrance

-Casa Azul Café Gallery: Business Hours: Every day from 8h00 to 21h00

-San Sebas Café: Business Hours: Wednesday to Sunday from 8h30 to 15h00

-Jodoco Bistro: Business Hours: Wednesday to Saturday from 11h00 to 23h00[/color-box]

BIENAL HOUSE

Estimated time of visit: 15 min

Business Hours: Monday to Friday from 8h30 to 13h00 and from 15h00 to 18h30.

Location: 13-81 Simon Bolivar street.

This house is probably one of the best examples of the French influence of architecture and decoration at the beginning of the XX century in Cuenca. This house purchased by Jose Antonio Alvarado in 1907, presents a design based on the professional requirements of the owner, who was one of the first importers of decorative materials for the houses in the city. This house is a sort of catalog with mural paintings, wallpaper and multi color tin sheets. The particular beauty of this house transports its visitors to the time when the owners tried to create a refined European atmosphere. It is possible to imagine the family members dressed up in Parisian suits and listening to music from the big piano that once decorated one of the main rooms. Currently, this is the administrative office of the “Bienal de Cuenca” Municipal Foundation,  an institution created in 1987 to organize one of the most important and prestigious art events in the country and the continent. The directors of Bienal de Cuenca have opened the first floor of the house known as “Patio Alvarado” to the public on a permanent basis. Here visitors can find an exhibit of photographs by Jose Antonio Alvarado who was also one of the pioneers of this type of art in Cuenca.

BOLIVAR CLINIC

Estimated time of visit: 5 min

Business Hours: Monday to Friday from 8h30 a 13h00 and from 15h00 a 18h30

Location: 13-14 Simon Bolivar and Juan Montalvo

The Bolivar Clinic stands out in this area due to its impressive architecture, and large dimensions. Built in 1929 as the family home of mister Manuel Felipe Ullauri Romero, with a neoclassic style,  it also has decorations from the renaissance periods of Louie XIV and Louie XV shown in the floral motifs of the windows. Mister Manuel Felipe Ullauri didn’t spare any expense to beautify his home. Fine multi color tin sheets were imported from France to decorate the main living room along with  high end vases to crown the terrace of the building. Even though most spaces were dedicated to living, several stores, most notably a bakery, a carpenter, and a furniture shop were located on the first floor. After the death of the owner in 1932, his inheritor Mrs. Virginia Ullauri sold the property to its new owners who transformed it into a residence. Finally in 1982, the Bolivar Clinic Foundation purchased the building and remodeled it to function as a health care facility.

COCO’S HOUSE

Estimated time of visit: 5 min

Business Hours: It will depend on each shop in the building

Location: 12-60 Simon Bolivar and Juan Montalvo.

Coco’s house is probably one of the best fusion examples between the colonial and French styles.  It presents characteristic elements from vernacular architecture of our city and the scheme of an internal patio, back patio and back garden plus doors and window lintels made of plaster, lime or brick. Its main room was richly decorated with tin sheets imported from France and its facade was decorated with friezes, columns and frames giving the house an elegant republican style. This house was built in 1890 for its owner, Mrs. Florencia Astudillo Valdivieso, who was the wealthiest woman in the city at that time. She was the only one who could afford to comfortably hear mass from her own house; that was the reason to build an oratory located on the second floor of the second patio. After the death of Mrs. Astudillo, the house was inherited by the Curia of Cuenca. Finally, in the 1970’s, Mr. Ernesto Moscoso purchased the house and, almost two decades later, he remodeled it and opened to the public in 1998 as a commercial center with the name “Casa del Coco”, in relation to his nickname.

PROVINCIAL HEADQUARTERS OF EDUCATION

Estimated time of visit: 5 min

Business Hours: Monday to Friday from 8h00 to 16h00.

Location: 10-63 Simon Bolivar and General Torres

This building presents a three floor facade where the visitors can see the majesty and elegance of republican neoclassic architecture of the 1930’s in Cuenca. Corinthian columns and wrought iron balconies give a special touch to doors with windows framed with half point arches. It is very interesting to closely observe the decorations of this house; the fine details such as vegetable motives around the portholes of the façade are impressive. The sides of the floor with dual frames are also part of this type of decoration. Currently, the Provincial Headquarters of Education use this house for their operations.

SOJOS’ HOUSE

Estimated time of visit: 5 min

House Location: 9-08 Simon Bolivar and Benigno Malo streets.

Originally this house belonged to the Malo Tamariz family and later it was purchased by Dr. Benjamin Sojos in 1907. In 1910 he decided to build a new facade using cement imported from France. Nowadays, this material can be seen in the Corinthian columns, in the lintels of the windows and on the turrets located on top of the building. In 1912, a new shipment with materials such as doors and windows made of wrought iron was requested from Paris, but due to World War I, only one door arrived which was transferred to Federico Malo. This was the reason Benjamin Sojos decided to use local wood to have the doors made for the house. On the first floor the antique pharmacy of Dr. Sojos still operates to this day and is one of the most traditional in the city. Here, traditional products can be found such as: soda beverages, essential oils, sulfur lotions, baking soda, etc.

SAN LUIS SEMINARY

Estimated time of visit: 5 min

Business Hours: Monday to Friday from 8h00 to 13h00 and from 14h00 to 17h00; Saturday from 10h00 to 12h00.

Location: Benigno Malo and Simon Bolivar streets.

The history of this building goes back to the beginning of the XIX century when the first Conciliar Seminary was funded in Cuenca in 1813. This place became the only higher education institution of its time for the South region of Ecuador offering classes not only in Theology, but also in Law and Medicine. The funds for its operation came from a tax charged to cacao imports. This building was recently restored by the Archdioceses of Cuenca for the functioning of their Pastoral offices and other dependencies. Inside the building there are magnificent patios with an impressive view of the domes of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

HOUSE OF THE JERVES CALERO FAMILY (CUENCA’S TOURISM BOARD)

Estimated time of visit: 5 min

Business Hours: Monday to Friday from 8h00 to 13h00 and from 15h00 to 18h00.

Location: 8-44 Simon Bolivar.

This house belonged to Mister Jose Calero and was built in 1917. This house represents  one of the most valuable testimonies to a time of great economic wealth in Cuenca, due to the export peak of husk and straw hats. Actually, the owner of this house had big agricultural properties down on the Coast that produced different products for exports. The house still preserves some of the elegant details of the time used for its decoration. Among them are the embossed tin ceiling imported from France and the fine carved wood which is covered with gold leaf on top of the main room windows. Its current owners, Mister Jose Calero’s grandchildren, commented that the house was considered one of the most luxurious properties in the city. Fine objects imported from France such as crystal lamps, marble tables, and mirrors made of rock crystal decorated the rooms where parties with Cuenca’s high society where very common.

ABDON CALDERON PARK

Estimated time of visit: 10 min

Location: A Block formed by Simon Bolivar, Mariscal Sucre, Benigno Malo and Luis Cordero streets.

The Abdon Calderon park is the center of all social, political and religious events in the city of Cuenca and is surrounded by public buildings which symbolize the powers of citizenship: political (Municipality and Governor’s office), religious (Old Cathedral and New Cathedral) and Judicial (Provincial Court of Justice). Around the park, there are elegant houses representative of an architectural style influenced by France which was the most notorious style in the city during the first part of the XX century. In the middle of the park and around the statue of Abdon Calderon, eight impressive araucarias are the result of the management of former president Luis Cordero. These trees were given as a present to him by the government of Chile in 1875. We should mention as an anecdote, that the former president sent to the Universal Exhibit in Paris in 1889 a sample of a local orchid, which got the second prize in the competition and since then is known as “Corderei Orchid”

[color-box color=”gray”]Points Of Interest:

-Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception: Business Hours: Monday to Friday from 9h00 to 17h00; Saturday from 9h00 to 13h00; Sunday from 6h45 to 16h45 and from 19h30 to 21h00. Cost of guided visits: Terrace and crypts USD 3.00; only terrace USD 2.00 USD; complete tour with terrace, crypts and meeting room USD 5.00 USD. Address: Benigno Malo and Mariscal Sucre streets.

-Sucré Salé Café: Business Hours: Monday to Friday from 9h00 to 20h30; Saturday from 16h00 to 20h30. Address: 8-74 Luis Cordero street.

-Tutto Freddo ice cream shop: Business Hours: Every day from 8h00 to 22h00. Address: Benigno Malo and Simon Bolivar streets.

-El Cantaro Restaurant: Business Hours: Every day from 8h00 to 22h00. Address: 8-58 Simon Bolivar street.

-Raymipampa Restaurant: Business Hours: Monday to Friday from 8h30 to 23h00; Saturday and Sunday from 9h30 to 22h00. Address: 8-59 Benigno Malo and Sucre streets

-Sajsana Restaurante: Business Hours: Monday to Wednesday 12h00 to 22h00; Thursday to Saturday 12h00 to 23h00; Sunday 12h00 to 17h00 Address: Benigno Malo and Simon Bolivar[/color-box]

EL SAGRARIO CHURCH (CURRENT OLD CATHEDRAL MUSEUM)

Estimated time of visit: 15 min

Location: On the corner of Sucre and Luis Cordero streets.

Business Hours: Monday to Friday from 9h00 to 17h30; Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 9h00 to 13h00

The construction of the Old Cathedral (Main Church) started a little after the foundation of Cuenca in 1557. This church was considered a cathedral with a bishop by the end of the XVIII century. Actually, this church keeps the basic colonial structure despite several remodeling processes done in the XIX and XX centuries. This building is not used as a church anymore, but as the “Old Cathedral Museum”, keeping invaluable works of art related to this building. The First Geodesic French Mission, which arrived in Cuenca in 1739, used its South tower (which was destroyed at the end of the XIX century and substituted by the current front), as the reference base point for the works of geometrical triangulation between the plains of Tarqui and Cuenca. A marble plaque remembers this event with the legend stating that this “Tower is more famous than the Egyptian Pyramids” and was written in 1804 by the Colombian scientist Francisco Jose de Caldas. It is said that at this point a meridian and a parallel cross, and because of this, some people believe that the use of the meter as a measuring unit was born in Cuenca.

COURT OF JUSTICE

Estimated time of visit: 15 min

Business Hours: Monday to Friday from 8h00 to 17h00

Location: Mariscal Sucre and Luis Cordero streets.

This elegant building of neoclassic style was built in 1929 to be used as the first university of the city (The University of Azuay). Its architect, Francisco Espinoza Acevedo, designed it using a classic French style. Its walls are covered with marble brought from areas close to the city and polished in the Tomebamba river mills. In the interior, the beautiful ceiling catches the attention of visitors, with its multi-color tin sheets which were imported from France.   the Universidad del Azuay (Current University of Cuenca) operated in this building until the 60’s when the Superior Court of Justice moved in. Currently, in this building the Provincial Court of Justice functions.

SAN ALFONSO CHURCH OR PERPETUAL MERCY BASILICA

Estimated time of visit: 5 min

Business Hours: Monday to Friday from 6h00 to 9h00 and from 18h30 to 20h00; Saturday from 6h00 to 11h00 and from 16h30 to 20h00; Sunday from 5h00 to 12h30 and from 18h30 a 20h00.

Location: Simon Bolivar and Antonio Borrero streets.

In 1870, the Redemption missionaries arrived in Cuenca and received a piece of land where the  build the church and monastery of San Agustin. After taking down the old building, a new temple was built and received the name of San Alfonso. For the construction of this church, a young Redemption brother was hired, Juan Bautista Stiehle. For him, this was his first work in Cuenca. We must point out that Juan Bautista Stiehle also designed the layout for the construction of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The church of San Alfonso has a neo gothic style. There are 92 stained glass windows on the side walls, façade, towers and domes; these windows were imported from France at the end of the XIX century, and were made by the French artist Henry Louis Victor Gesta. Inside the temple visitors can find several french elements, such as the tubular organ, the paintings of “Vía Crucis” and the sculpture of “La Piedad”. In 1888, the Bishop of Cuenca Miguel Leon dedicated the temple to the Virgin of  Perpetual Mercy, raising the category of the church to “basilica”.

OFFICE OF THE MAYOR OF CUENCA

Estimated time of visit: 10 min

Business Hours: Monday to Friday from 9h00 to 18h00 / Saturday from 9h00 to 13h00.

Location: Simon Bolivar and Presidente Borrero streets.

This building was built between 1922 and 1926 and was conceived as a mansion of neo classic style for the operation of the first bank in the region: Banco del Azuay. This institution was considered one of the strongest of that time operating with European branches plus being responsible for printing the first bills in the city. This building is without doubt one of the best examples of French influence in the architecture of Cuenca at the beginning of the XX century. The French style of the building has a renaissance inspiration. Architect Luis Felipe Donoso Barba fulfilled the wishes of the owners: show greatness, luxury and economic power. The offices of the Mayor are currently operating in this building and the first floor has an art gallery with permanent exhibits.

REMIGIO CRESPO TORAL HOUSE MUSEUM

Estimated time of visit: 15 min

Business Hours: Tuesday to Friday from 10h00 to 17h30/ Saturday to Sundays 10h00 to 14h00.

Location: Calle Larga and Presidente Borrero streets.

The Remigo Crespo Toral Museum is located within an antique house which belonged to the famous poet from the last part of the XIX century and beginning of the XX century.  Remigio Crespo Toral was a politician, professor and rector of the university and was highly responsible for the important progress of culture during that period. The archives of the History of Cuenca are located in the Remigio Crespo Toral House Museum including all treaties, agreements, letters etc. about the construction of the city. The famous tombstone that Carlos Maria de la Condamine, member of the First Geodesic French Mission, ordered is kept here which recorded the results of the  French Mission. This tombstone has gone through a long history of problems from the time it was set to the Sempertegui farm, outside Cuenca (Tarqui area), its subsequent trip to the Viceroyalty of Santa Fe in the hands of Francisco Jose de Caldas, its return to Ecuador, and lastly its temporal misplacement and final recovery.

BENIGNO MALO HIGH SCHOOL

Estimated time of visit: 15 min

Location: Fray Vicente Solano Avenue.

This building of renaissance style was design by the famous architect Luis Felipe Donoso Barba, who was inspired by French buildings such as the University of Lyon to execute his work. Its construction began in 1923 and ended in 1937. Funding for the construction was obtained from taxes to local companies including Cerveceria del Azuay, a local beer producer. The high school was named at that time “High School of the City”  and began operating in this building in 1937. Since then, it has been an icon of modern times and progress in the city of Cuenca. Currently it is the home of the mixed public  “Benigno Malo” high school.

FRENCH ALLIANCE

Estimated time of visit: 15 min

Business Hours: Monday to Friday from 8h00 to 13h00 and from 15h00 to 18h00.

Location: 1-92 Tadeo Torres Street and Solano Avenue.

The French Alliance of Cuenca was founded in 1966 as a non-profit association with the objective to spread the French language and culture and to enforce friendship bonds between France and Ecuador. This objective is met through student exchange between both countries and other cultural events. The French Alliance of Cuenca operates in a building of an interesting cubic style which was built in 1983 by architect Fausto Cornejo. Currently, the building has an art gallery for exhibits, an auditorium, a library and a pedagogic kitchen. The building was remodeled in 2012 by the architect Pedro Espinosa Abad.

One Response

  1. This is awesome information!! Thank you so much for sharing these historical sites with times of operation and locations. I can hardly wait for my mom to come back so we can see some of these wonderful structures.

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