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The city of Cuenca and the Hanging Houses - Spain

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Located in the autonomous community of Castilla-la Mancha in Central Spain, this historic city sprawls across a steep spur, the slopes of which go down into the deep rocky gorges of the Huécar and Júcar rivers.
If you can even imagine living in a house that quite literally hangs over the edge of a very steep cliff, then you should visit Cuenca and its fascinating "Casas Colgadas" or Hanging Houses.

Due to its situation in the mountains, Cuenca is divided into two settlements, one the so-called "new" city and the other the older town, divided by the Huécar course.

Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses):

The looming rocky cliffs are the home of the Casas Colgadas, or Hanging Houses. This kind of house was a frequent sight in the past but today, only a few remain. Those pictured on the right, with their wooden balconies, are the most well-known of them all.

Casas Colgadas, Cuenca
Casas Colgadas Håkan Svensson CC BY-SA 3.0 

Not much is known of their origins, although evidence shows that they existed in the 15th century and they have been refurbished several times since then, the last renovation being during the 1920s.

These days they are used as council houses, individual homes, a restaurant and also the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español (Spanish Abstract Art Museum), in Cuenca.

Panoramic view of Cuenca - photo in the public domainA bit of history

To find out how the town got its name, it seems that while the rest of Spain was being taken over by the Romans, Cuenca was left alone. It was only when the Arabs captured the area in the year 714, that the value of this strategic location was seen, and they built a fortress on the mountain-top which they named "Kunka." In later years as the Christian forces gradually took back the country, the name most probably evolved from that into the current city name of "Cuenca."

The ruins of the Arab fortress, dubbed El Castillo, can be seen in the town today, but only a tower, a couple of stone blocks and an archway into the town remain.

There are many impressive sights to see in the city, including Cuenca Cathedral, pictured above, which was built between 1182 and 1270. In 1902, the façade was rebuilt after it crumbled down, and it is renowned as being the first gothic style cathedral in Spain.

The Puente de San Pablo (bridge of Saint Paul) was built between 1533 and 1589, and is still in use today. Stretching over the river Huecar's Gorge, this bridge connects the old town with St. Paul convent. Admittedly, the original did collapse and the current bridge was rebuilt in 1902, but it is still a historic structure, looming 40 meters high over the gorge and supported by the remains of the original bridge.

Sleep among history

Across the bridge can be found the convent of Saint Paul, the original portion of which was built in the 16th century. It took a while for the current structure to be completed in the 18th century in the rococo style.

Parador de CuencaThe convent was run by Dominican monks and later the Pauline Fathers, but has now been restored to its original splendor and more and now houses the Parador de Cuenca, a luxury hotel.

By the way, the government-owned Paradores of Spain are a fascinating experience, where you can stay in luxury in a historic building, such as a castle or palace in most regions of Spain, and Cuenca's parador is no exception. From here the old town is easily reachable via the St Paul bridge.

There is so much more to see if this historic and beautiful city, including churches, ancient buildings and beautiful plazas and parks.  Why not take a few days to visit this unusual location in the heart of historic Spain?

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Latest update: September 7, 2014