The image corresponds to a steel plate engraving of the city of Cuenca in the 19th century, year 1850. It was drawn and engraved by one of the Rourage brothers, the illustration comes from the work Voyage pittoresque en Espagne et en Portugal by Émile Bégin, a French writer who was dedicated to travel around Europe. The image was obtained from the virtual Library of Andalucía.
During the 19th century, Spain was transformed. Agriculture was modernized and industrial activity started to become significant. In addition, the old absolutist monarchy was replaced by a parliamentary and constitutional system, whereas the feudal society was converted into a class society. All these changes caused political inestability, represented in civil wars, social revolutions and the ascendancy of liberalism. In the Third Carlist War Cuenca was attacked twice, in 1873 and 1874. The Carlist troops (still absolutist) entered the lower part of the city, burned it down and killed many prisoners, looting everything and imposing new contributions. The war ended in 1876 and Cuenca lost its political and economic importance. Textile manufacturing, farming and forestry collapsed and then started a period of decline. Throughout the 20th century, the primary sector has been still important, but the second and third sectors gained importance.
Concerning its location and urban aspects, Cuenca is a city that belongs to the region of Castilla-La Mancha. It is a medieval city, as it can be seen in its walls and clustered housing. Cuenca is integrated in a natural landscape because it is situated on a rocky terrain that favoured the defense and its strategic position. Due to its history and its topography, it can be seen that it has an irregular urban layout and a medieval architecture. Therefore it includes a rich heritage formed by churches, towers and palaces. Also, elements of the Moorish period are also added, such as the immense gates and the set of houses very close together.
One of the principal towers, The Giraldo, fell down in 1902 and caused one of the biggest catastrophes in the city. It crumbled part of the cathedral, one of the greatest Gothic temples of Castile, built on an old mosque. We can also see the convent and St. Paul, belonged to the dominican order, which was located outside the city . The name of St. Paul comes from an patronage offering to the apostle Paul of Tarsus. The convent is currently a national Parador of Tourism. Also, it can be seen the brigde of St. Paul, built between 1533 and 1589 in stone to sort the canyon of the Huécar river and to communicate the convent and the urban center. However, that stone bridge collapsed and in 1902 it was rebuilt using wood and metal.
The city of Cuenca had and has several functions. Initially defensive, then agricultural-comercial centre, in the last century its economy moved to cultural activities. Cuenca had first a relevant manufacturing function because the textile activities were at the head of the Castilian economy and also its religious function because because there were a lot of religious foundations which are reflected in the urban morphology. This is one of the reasons for its cultural function, as its unique landscape and settlement in a rocky terrain provides a major touristic attraction nowadays.
Shuleyma Rodríguez Mabrouki
This image was created by Anton Van Den Wyngaerde. He was a Flemish painter of landscapes who lived in the 16th century. This painter toured Spain from 1561, drawing a collection of sixty two views of towns and cities. Thus, the image shows how Cuenca was in the 16th century.
Cuenca is a city in Castilla-La Mancha, situated near Madrid (the capital of Spain). It is ubicated between Albacete and Guadalajara provinces. Cuenca appeared as an urban center located on top of a hill; that is because originally it was a Medieval town and it was surrounded by city walls and the sickle of Huecar’s river as well to protect the city from attack.
This picture displays the old quarter which has an irregular urban layout because it is very conditioned by the topography. The modern city started to grow from the 60s and the modern landscape has a lineal plane. Cuenca grew thanks to the economic activities conducted by workshops, potters and blacksmiths as part of medieval craftsmanship.
In the drawing we can see in detail the following elements. In the foreground we can appreciate a beautiful sunshine that makes you feel a sensation of peace, calmness, tranquility. Nowadays you feel the same when you have a walk along all the narrow streets in the old part of the city. At the top of the image, we can observe the cathedral which is the only Gothic Normand style in Spain. It is situate in the “Main square”, in which so many years ago it was celebrate a festival with cows running all around that place and the streets around.
Close to this area we can find the “Hanged Houses” that are very influenced by the topography. In the past this was a common architectural element on the eastern edge of the old city, located opposite the sickle of the river Huécar. They were very useful to protect the city in the medieval times but today only remain a small series of houses. Among all these houses, the best known is a set of three structures with wooden balconies. They exist from the 15th century but have been constantly remodeled and have been used as residences, restaurants and lately the Abstract Art Museum. In this splendid museum not only the superb works of art are astonishing but also the setting and the environment is wonderful.
In the middle of the picture we can distinguish “Saint Paul Bridge” that crosses the river Huécar, linking “Saint Paul‘s convent” and the urban area. The convent situated at the bottom right corner is now a Parador hotel. Although the “Ciudad Encantada” is not showed in the picture, it is an important proximal landscape, very popular because the relief forms and sizes of its rocks.
The city remained on the top of the hill until the 20th century. Then, with the arrival of rural immigration and industrialiation, it began to expand. In the picture, you can only see the old quarter because by that time (16th century) was the only part of the city that was built, but after that Cuenca started a expansion throughout the opposite side of the river. Most of the people are working in the second and third sector in Cuenca ‘city, but in the villages around it ninety percent of the population work in the first sector.
In Cuenca, people usually live around up town, because the houses from down town are very small and old. The buildings are not high at all, mainly because there are not office towers. As I said before, the most important feature of Cuenca housing is the architecture of the “Hanged Houses”.
Judith Pintor Ortega