Cuenca, City of the Hanging Houses. The image of Cuenca is linked to the two gorges of the Hu├ęcar and J├║car rivers, between which it is located. It is also famous for its 'Casas Colgadas' (Hanging Houses). The city of Cuenca, which has been declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site, extends from the top of a promontory overlooking the ruins of a Moorish castle, the ancient Kunka fortress. The modern city now spreads over the J├║car plain.
The historic city of Cuenca is an amalgam of styles and eras. The most notable monuments include the walled town, the City Hall, the 18th century Plaza Mayor, the Cathedral (which was originally built in the twelfth century and later restored in the 15th and 16th centuries). The Cathedral has a unique typology among Spanish cathedrals, churches and monasteries from the 16th-18th centuries.
However, the Hanging Houses are the most popular feature of the city. They are located on the rocky cliffs of La Hoz, over the Hu├ęcar river, and date back to the 14th century.
The province of Cuenca
The province of Cuenca, part of the autonomous community of Castilla-La Mancha, borders the provinces of Valencia, Albacete, Ciudad Real, Toledo, Madrid, Guadalajara and Teruel. The province is most famous for the city of Cuenca and its hanging houses, which have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, but Cuenca has more to offer.
La Serran├şa de Cuenca mountain range starts about 30 kilometers from the capital, where the water and wind have wittled away the limestone rock to produced ┬┤La Ciudad Encantada' (The Enchanted City); a Site of Natural Interest. The El Hosquillo Game Reserve and the Sol├ín de Cabras Thermal Station, which is known for its medicinal spring waters, are located further north. Mountain villages lead to the source of the Cuervo river, in a spectacular landscape of waterfalls.
From Cuenca, in a southeasterly direction, nature and traditional architecture form a unique landscape where streams, waterfalls and lakes give way to places like the Pascuala Jungle, Ca├▒ete and Moya. Renaissance Convents, cave paintings and monuments including fortresses, walls and Gothic churches are among the many attractions. The Hoces del Cabriel Nature Reserve is located farther south in an area of high rocky cliffs.
Another interesting place to visit is the La Alcarria plateau, where there are a number of places described by the Spanish Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Camilo Jos├ę Cela, in his book "Journey to La Alcarria" (Viaje a La Alcarria).
The western sector of the province offers an historic route, where the towns of Taranc├│n, Ucl├ęs and Saelices (which contains the Roman ruins of Seg├│briga) are some of the main points of interest. The southern area is known as "the wet spot", and contains the Mota del Cuervo windmills and the spectacular castles of Belmonte and Alarc├│n.
The province of Cuenca has been a place of settlement throughout history and has a rich cultural heritage. There are still some spectacular Roman remains in the province today. Some of the main cities to occupy the province included: Valeria (about 20 minutes from Cuenca), Seg├│briga (about 2 kms from Saelices), Erc├ívica (next to Ca├▒averuelas), Egelasta and Alaba. The first three of these still retain some of their former luster.
Cuenca is one of the most exciting cultural centers on the peninsula. There is some impressive rock art in the Villar del Humo cave complex, focusing primarily on the representation of animals from the area: deer, goats, cattle and pigs.
The Arabs, who came to the peninsula in the eighth century, found the area to be vastly unpopulated. However, in the ninth century, the area started to be repopulated and a number of castles and towns were built including Ucl├ęs, Huete and the current capital city of Cuenca. The capital's current name derives from the Arabic title 'Al-Kunka'.
Renaissance and Baroque highlights include the medieval towns of Alarc├│n, Belmonte and Ca├▒ete.
Castles in Cuenca
In the Middle Ages, the Iberian peninsula was home to a great many castles, particularly within the Crown of Castile. A large number of these castles can be found in the province of Cuenca. Some still remain fairly intact and are open to the public and some lie in ruins. The remains of some important forts can be found in the Sierra de Cuenca, including that of Moya, Priego, Beteta, Villora (newly restored) and the castle and walls of Ca├▒ete (an excellent medieval town). La Mancha is the area in the province of Cuenca with the largest collection of castles.
Taking the N-420 road from Cuenca, you will discover the first castle in the town of Castillo de Garcimu├▒oz. The medieval history of this town is preserved in its manor houses with shields and Renaissance spikes.
In El Ca├▒avate, a town of Roman origin, there are the remains of an ancient 14th century fortress near the 16th century shrine of the Virgin de Trascastillo, a Renaissance structure.
Alarc├│n, former capital of the Marquis de Villena, is home to one of the most beautiful castles in the province, that is currently being used as a National Tourism Office.
In the extreme southwest of Cuenca, overlooking the heart of La Mancha, is Mota del Cuervo. Topped by windmills, Mota del Cuervo overlooks the land of Don Quixote and the noble town of Belmonte. Belmonte, which was the home town of Fray Luis de Le├│n, has one of the best conserved walled enclosure in the province of Cuenca. The castle is also preserved in its entirety.
Nature and Active Tourism
The "El Hosquillo" Natural Palk is located in the heart of the Serran├şa Alta de Cuenca mountain range, in a beautiful valley. The park can be explored on guided tours.
Situated next to the Vega del Codorno, about 80kms from Cuenca, is one of the most attractive places in the province: the source of the Cuervo river in the mountains. The water falls from high ledges creating waterfalls and an area of outstanding natural beauty.
The Baja Serran├şa (Lower Highlands), located to the west, is mainly home to pine vegetation. The Mogotes geological formations (which form The Enchanted City) are another famous feature in this area. Los Festones and Las Hoces are other phenomena resulting from the limestone rock becoming moulded and shaped by rainwater, running water and wind. Tourists should not miss the two Hoces de Cuenca: J├║car and Hu├ęcar.
La Torca is another natural phenomenon in the mountains. In this case, groundwater has caused the ground to sink creating a huge hollow. If a swell of surface water were to occur the hollow would become a lagoon. This is how the Ca├▒ada de Hoyo lagoons were formed.
Tragacete is a quiet town in the heart of the Cuenca mountains in the northwest of the province. It is situated in a broad valley that the J├║car river flows through. It has an extensive network of marked walking and hiking paths of different lengths and levels of difficulty. Visitors do not require any special training or equipment to access the hiking routes, and some routes are even suitable for families.