Itinerant Archivists’ first day in Cuenca, Ecuador

Wednesday, September 30

On Wednesday morning, our group departed from Café Cultura for the UIO airport. After a surprisingly hassle-free check in, our flight touched down in the UNESCO World Heritage site of “Santa Ana de los Cuatro Ríos de Cuenca,” commonly known as Cuenca. An important Cañari settlement subsumed by the Incan empire in the 15th century (and later the Spanish conquistadors), Cuenca exhibits a rich and varied cultural legacy at every corner.

View of Hostal Inés María courtyard
View of Hostal Inés María courtyard

Our van arrived at the Hostal Inés Maria early in the afternoon. Having settled in to our new accommodations, the party split into two groups for lunch before our first meeting. My group stopped into the Moliendo Café in the Historic Town center where I enjoyed the menú ejecutivo, a generous plate featuring a variety of typical fare. After a quick visit to the Goza Espresso Bar, we assembled at the Museo Remigio Crespo.

Inside view of Museo Remigio Toral Crespo
Inside view of Museo Remigio Toral Crespo

The Museo Remigio Crespo, designated as the City Museum in 1981, is in the former home of the Cuenca-born poet, journalist, diplomat, academic,  and [XXX] Remigio Crespo Toral (1860-1939). In need of serious structural restoration, the museum was closed to the public for several years. Thanks to significant investment from the Municipalidad de Cuenca and the World Monuments Fund, the museum administration plans to reopen the historic home to the public in a few short months.The museum houses a rich collection of artifacts, documents, and artwork related to the history of Cuenca. Our primary purpose here was to visit the archives housed on an upper floor. We had an opportunity to view some of the city’s founding documents, historic photographs, and administrative records that shed light on the early days of modern industry. In addition to restoring the historic home and conserving the historic materials it contains, the staff has ambitious plans to expand public access through digitization and outreach.

Facade of Museo Remigio Toral Crespo
Facade of Museo Remigio Toral Crespo

Following our tour, I left with Judy Blankenship and Natalie Baur to meet with local architect María de Lourdes Abad Rodas. Over sweet humitas and coffee, we spoke with Lourdes about her experiences as a woman in architecture and her many contributions to the architectural legacy of Ecuador. A graduate of the University of Cuenca, Lourdes specializes in the restoration of historic buildings and earthen construction like adobe. An established expert on the international stage, some of her recent work in Ecuador includes early preservation assessments of the Museo Remigio Crespo, restoration of the Iglesia San Francisco in Cuenca, and the design of several earthen homes (including Judy’s home in Cañar, which was profiled by the New York Times in June 2013).

Inmaculada Concepción Cathedral in Cuenca, Ecuador
Inmaculada Concepción Cathedral in Cuenca, Ecuador

At the end of a long, full day, we were happy to reunite with the group at Restaurante Raymipampa to enjoy some of Cuenca’s traditional cuisine.

written by Sam Winn

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