views updated May 18 2018


Cuenca, the third largest city in Ecuador (2005 est. pop. 276,964) and capital of Azuay Province. Cuenca is located in the southern sierra of Ecuador, 8,500 feet above sea level, on the banks of the Tomebamba River. Pre-Incaic civilizations flourished in the region and attained their most highly developed cultural phase with the Cañari, known for their beautiful goldwork. The Cañari had no centralized authority and were not able to defend themselves effectively against the invading Incas, who came from Peru between 1463 and 1471. The Incas established a reputedly breathtaking city known as Tomebamba (Tumipampa) on the site of modern Cuenca. The nearby ruins of Inga-pirca, on the great Incan highway, are the only Incan architectural monuments left in Ecuador today. The indigenous city was razed in 1557, when the Spanish conquerors arrived in the region after defeating the Incas. On the orders of Viceroy Gil Ramírez Dávlos, Fray Vicente Solano founded the city anew as a Spanish town, naming it Cuenca after a city in Spain.

During the colonial period, the Spanish built a picturesque tiled city, of which much architecture remains in the early 2000s. Cuenca became known for the devoutly religious and conservative character of its residents. The economy depended on agriculture and on the textile production of the indigenous peoples of the region. The population was not at first in favor of the independence movement; indeed, after independence the local economy suffered due to the sudden rise in imports of British textiles. During the nineteenth century, the misnamed "Panama hat," woven of straw and formerly made on the Ecuadorian coast, made its way to the highlands and became the basis for the dominant cottage industry among local native people. These hats and other artisan productions are exported in great numbers in the early 2000s. The economy also depends on agriculture, cattle ranching, and leather processing.

Another important component of the economies in Cuenca, Azuay province, and Ecuador is the funds its migrants send home. Since 1980, 10 to 15 percent of Ecuador's population has emigrated overseas, and in the first of two migration waves, Cuenca and Azuay province sent the most emigrants. Most of them were poor men from communities where women traditionally wove Panama hats, and they often sought work in the New York metropolitan area. In 2004 migrants sent $2 billion in remittances back to Ecuador, an amount equal to 6.7 percent of the country's GDP and second only to oil exports, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.

In 1999 the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared Cuenca's historic center of colonial Spanish architecture a World Heritage Site, boosting a growing tourist industry.

See alsoTextile Industry: The Colonial Era; Textile Industry: Modern Textiles.


For an excellent summary of what is known about the ancient history of Cuenca, see Betty Jane Meggers, Ecuador (1966). For the transition from the colonial period to the modern, see Silvia Palomeque, Cuenca en el siglo XIX: La a articulación de una región (1990).

Arteaga, Diego. El artesano en la Cuenca colonial (1557–1670). Cuenca, Ecuador: Centro Americano de Artesanías: C.C.E. Nucleo del Azuay, 2000.

Chacón Z., Juan Pedro Soto, and Diego Mora. Historia de la gobernación de Cuenca, 1777–1820: Estudio económico-social. Cuenca, Ecuador: Universidad de Cuenca, Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales, 1994.

Idrovo Urigüen, Jaime. Tomebamba, arqueología e historia de una ciudad imperial. Quito: Banco Central del Ecuador, Dirección Cultural Regional Cuenca, 2000.

Jamieson, Ross W. Domestic Architecture and Power: The Historical Archaeology of Colonial Ecuador. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2000.

Kyle, David. Transnational Peasants: Migrations, Networks, and Ethnicity in Andean Ecuador. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

Moldstad, Gro Mathilde. "Guardiana de la fe": Oposición religiosa y negociación de identidad: Los nobles de Cuenca. Quito: Ediciones Abya-Yala, 1996.

Paniagua Pérez, Jesús, and Deborah L. Truhan. Oficios y actividad paragremial en la Real Audiencia de Quito (1557–1730): El corregimiento de Cuenca. León, Ecuador: Universidad de León, Secretariado de Publica-ciones y Medios Audiovisuales, 2003.

                                     Camilla Townsend


views updated May 08 2018


CUENCA , city in Castile, Spain. Shortly after its reconquest in 1177, Cuenca was granted a fuero ("charter") which served as the model for other Castilian towns. This permitted Jews to settle freely and trade without restriction, but debarred them from certain offices and forbade sexual relations with Christian women, on pain of burning. Chapter xxix in its entirety and seven scattered laws out of 983 laws of the Fuero de Cuenca deal with Jews. The Fuero establishes, in theory but not in practice, equality before the law for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Toward the end of the 13th century the community of Cuenca numbered between 50 and 100 families, paying an average annual tax of 70,872 maravedis. The Jewish quarter was located near the cathedral. The Jews made loans to the city in 1318 and in 1326 at a high rate of interest. In 1355 there was an outbreak of anti-Jewish rioting in Cuenca led by the Christian and Muslim supporters of Queen Blanca. During the anti-Jewish riots of 1391, the leading citizens of Cuenca joined the populace in an attack on the Jewish quarter, which was completely destroyed. The community partly recovered during the 15th century. There was now also a considerable body of Conversos. A tribunal of the Inquisition began its activities in the district of Cuenca in 1489; the number of those sentenced reached into thousands. After the issue of the decree of expulsion of the Jews from Spain in March 1492, the Jews of Cuenca and Huete are said to have rioted, claiming that they had four years to leave Spain and threatening to take revenge on the Conversos. Some of the exiles from Cuenca in the Ottoman Empire adopted the name of the city as a family name. The Inquisition continued to operate in Cuenca throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. The last serious series of trials took place in the years 1718–25 when hundreds of Crypto-Jews or descendants of Conversos were cruelly persecuted and prosecuted by the local tribunal. This campaign was part of a general inquisitorial move under Philip v. The reason for this campaign in the region of Cuenca may have been the socioeconomic position of the Conversos. The confiscations contributed much to the finances of the Inquisition in Cuenca.


Baer, Spain, index; H.C. Lea, History of the Inquisition in Spain, 1 (1906), index; R. de Ureña y Smenjaud, Las ediciones del Fuero de Cuenca (1917); Huidobro and Cantera, in: Sefarad, 14 (1954), 342; Suárez Fernández, Documentos, index; S. Cirac Estopañan Registros de los Documentos del Santo Oficio de Cuenca y Sigüenza (1965). add. bibliography: C. Carrete Parrondo, in: Helmantica 30 (1979), 51–61; M.F. García Casar, in: rej 144 (1985), 27–37; R. de Lera García, in: Sefarad 47 (1987), 87–137; R. Carrasco, in: Hispania 166 (1987), 503–59; Y. Moreno Koch, in: El Olivo 27 (1988), 47–52.

[Haim Beinart /

Yom Tov Assis (2nd ed.)]