Hanging houses of an enchanted city

Hanging houses of an enchanted city

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The beauty and history of Cuenca have earned it a place as a World Heritage Site.

MADRID - Cuenca is one of 13 Spanish towns declared World Heritage Cities by UNESCO, a jewel of architecture that preserves examples of its Moorish origins as a stronghold for the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba, as well as Christian buildings dating back to the conquest of the city in the 12th century by King Alfonso VIII.

Cuenca boasts Spain's first Gothic cathedral, whose nucleus was built at that time, although subsequent additions throughout the centuries added new styles to the massive building.

However, Cuenca is mostly famous for its "hanging houses" (casas colgadas), which perch precariously atop a narrow gorge over the river Huecar. At one point, the entire rock face was full of such houses, but today only three remain.

They underwent extensive restoration in the 20th century to maintain them in a similar state as that in which they were originally built, with an abundance of wood as building material.

The Puerta de San Juan is one remaining door of the seven or eight gates that gave access to the town when it was still surrounded by a protective wall. Legend has it that King Alfonso VIII entered Cuenca through this door to recover it from the Moors.

This setting is home to one of Spain's most notable Easter celebrations, which in Castilla-La Mancha are usually sober and silent in comparison with the more boisterous Andalusian processions.

Declared of International Tourist Interest, it is the city's most important cultural event of the year, and brotherhoods take care to maintain the spirit of those first processions from the 17th century.

Eerie landscapes
After visiting the myriad churches and noble homes that dot the city, many visitors head out to La Ciudad Encantada (The Enchanted City), a natural space where water erosion has created fantastically shaped stones inside a gorge between the locations of Uña and Villalba de la Sierra. A walk through this eerie landscape takes visitors to stone "sculptures" called The Elephant, The Dog and The Boat.

Around 80 kilometres from Cuenca capital is another natural space of interest, the Nacimiento del Río Cuervo, where the river of that name originates. Water running down from the mountain has created highly original rock formations inside the cave where the Cuervo is "born." To get there one must walk along a mountain trail that follows the course of the river and its many small cascades.

For more natural beauty, the Hoces del Cabriel is a natural reserve with a notable biodiversity that is home to, among other species, otters, wildcats, golden eagles, peregrine falcons and eagle owls.

[El Pais / S. U. / Expatica]

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