Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca (Cuenca) is the third largest city in Ecuador, with nearly 500,000 residents. Cuenca is the capital of the Azuay province and holds the largest hydroelectric plant in Ecuador. The city has a long history that predates the conquest of the Spanish in the 1500s, with a known history extending as far back as 500 BCE and settlement in the general region since 8000 BCE. Cuenca Day in Ecuador, also called Foundation of Cuenca, is an important regional holiday.
Cuenca Before Conquest
Around 500 BCE the Cañari people settled a city they called Guapondeleg (“large as heaven”). Conquered by the Incas in fifteenth century, the Cañari were known for their advancements in astronomy and agriculture. The Incas renamed their city Tumebamba (“river of knives”) and the Inca commander Tupac Yupanqui ordered the creation of a city to rival all others, a second capital of the Inca empire that would equal its existing capital, Cuzco.
When the Spanish came to Ecuador in the 1540s and 1550s they were told stories of Tumebamba (renamed Pumapungo, or “door of the Puma”) and its riches. When conquistadors found the city, though, it was burned and destroyed, resembling nothing they’d been described. Over the centuries, legends formed claiming that the city that became Cuenca, before conquest, was El Dorado, the mythical city of gold fiercely searched for by the Spaniards. There is no archaeological or other evidence to support these legends.
Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca Under Spanish Control
On April 12, 1557 Don Gil Ramirez Dávalos founded the newly Spanish dominated city of Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca by order of the king. The old Inca city of Tumebamba was in ruins already, so the Spaniards rebuilt over it, importing a colonial European style and first building a town hall and a cathedral. The city soon grew, and these foundation buildings which form the center of Cuenca are now among the 890 UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Foundation of Cuenca
By the 1700s Cuenca was known for its cloth, with cottage industry producing boyeta and tacuyo, types of weavings. By the early 1820s, inspired by criollos such as Simón Bolivar, leaders in what is now Ecuador declared and fought for independence from Spain. Guayaquil, the largest port city in Ecuador, declared independence on October 9, 1820, followed by Portoviejo on October 18, then the foundation of Cuenca on November 3. With the declaration of independence of these three key cities in Ecuador, the battle for liberation of Quito and Ecuador was set and achieved in 1822.