Set on a high, impregnable hill, surrounded by the Hucar and Huécar rivers, Cuenca is an outstanding example of a medieval fortified city. The city is well preserved, so it can still be enjoyed today. The emergence of the city of Cuenca, the capital of the Spanish province of the same name, dates back to the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors in 714.
Realizing the strategic importance of this uninhabited place, the Moors built a fortress here. In the 12th century, the city was conquered by the Christian king Alfonso VIII. He enacted new laws and a period of prosperity followed during which a number of historic buildings were built, including Spain’s first Gothic cathedral.
The old city of Cuenca is located on a hilltop, at an altitude of about 950 meters above sea level, surrounded by the gorges of the Jucar River and its tributary Huécar. The Moorish origin of the city is still evident.
The Hanging Houses of Cuenca, also known as “Casas Colgadas”, are a complex of buildings literally hanging from a cliff. The history and exact origins of the Hanging Houses are unclear. Some believe that these well-preserved architectural marvels are of Muslim origin, others believe that they were built in the Middle Ages (14th-15th centuries).
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Over the centuries the houses have served different purposes, being used as private dwellings and council houses. It is believed that they were originally a summer vacation spot for royal families.
However, there is evidence of their existence in the 15th century, when the Flemish topographer Anton van den Wyngaerde, who created panoramic sketches and paintings of cities, included them in his wonderful panoramic view of Cuenca from the east. The houses reach a height of three or four stories, but some have up to 10 stories inside where they are built into the side of a ravine. Such houses in the past were common along the eastern border of the ancient city.
Only a few remain today. The most famous is a complex of three houses with wooden balconies. One of them, La Casa de la Sirena (Mermaid’s House), has a traditional restaurant. The art museum is located in Las Casas del Rey (Houses of the Kings). The Spanish Museum of Abstract Art was opened in 1966 by Fernando Zobel and Gustavo Thorner and is the first museum of its kind in Spain.
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They have been renovated many times over the years. The most recent renovation took place in the 1920s. Here visitors can see paintings and sculptures by a number of famous Spanish and foreign artists such as Rueda, Antonio Tapies, Sempere, Millares, Saura, Fernando Zobel and Gustavo Torner. When visiting the museum, visitors actually enter and exit three different buildings.
The museum itself is a work of art and continues to be a popular tourist attraction in Spain. In 1980, the Council of Europe recognized the museum as the European Museum of the Year.
Thanks to its rich collection of impressive 12th-18th century architecture, the historic walled city of Cuenca was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List on December 7, 1996. The city is also known for its charming 13th century town centre.