I'm not sure why Cuenca is sometimes called the “Athens of Ecuador.” But maybe it's because there are so many wonderful old buildings. For sure, that's the reason the town is a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site.
People have lived in this spot in the highlands of the Andes at least 10,000 years! I say that because scientists have found evidence that people lived in a cave there waaaayyy back in 8060 BCE. These early traces were nomads who followed animal herds and had a hunting / gathering lifestyle.
Later peoples began agriculture, growing things like potatoes, squash, and quinoa, and raising llamas and alpacas. By 2000 BCE, the people of what would become Cuenca had organized enough to have people who specialized in water management, plague control, government, and religious ceremonies, as well of course as farmers. These Canari people called their settlement Guapondeleg. When the Inca conquered the town, they renamed it Tomebamba. It was the Spaniards that gave Cueca its modern name...well, actually, its proper, and longer, name: Santa Ana de los cuatros rios de Cuenca. (Saint Ann of the four rivers of the bowl [or basin])
Cuenca is around 8,000 feet above sea level – which is pretty high! My brother lives at that altitude, and I huff and puff when I visit him because the air is thinner, which means I get less oxygen with each breath.
The land around Cuenca is called Paramo, an ecosystem that is both alpine (high mountain country) and tropical (close to the equator). The Paramo lies between the forest and the permanent snowline. The plants of the Paramo evolved from tropical rainforest plants rather than, say, from temperate forests of North America, and instead of low-lying moss and shrubs, much of the Paramo features giant rosette plants and grasses.
Today Cuenca celebrates its independence from Spain on this date in 1820.
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