The most iconic pictures of Cuenca are those of the blue domes of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception or affectionately referred to as the New Cathedral by Cuencanos. This Cathedral is not to be confused with the “old” cathedral across the street.
Located in the heart of the historic center of Cuenca, known for its colonial architecture, the New Cathedral with its bright blue domes blends the new with the old. Even though it’s not that old, the New Cathedral is part of Cuencas UNESCO World Heritage site. Construction of the New Cathedral began in the 1880s and took over 80 years to complete. Consecration of the Cathedral took place in 1967.
The Tower Tour
We have visited the New Cathedral many times but recently decided to take the guided tour when some friends were visiting us from the States. The tour costs $3 and includes the interior of the church, the crypt, and access to the patio between the towers. Our guide was very knowledgeable and passionate about educating our party of four on the history and the materials used in building the cathedral. After walking the entire area of the main floor of the church, we went up to the choir balcony.
We began our 150+ step climb of the circular staircase in one of the towers to reach the outdoor plaza located between the towers. The views of the city with its red tiled roof tops and other magnificent churches are breathtaking. From the patio, you can get a view of Parque Calderon and the beautiful colonial buildings that surround it. The original plans called for the two towers to be larger. Truncation of the towers was necessary because the foundation of the church was not strong enough to support the projected weight of the bells and the towers. Because of this, the New Cathedral does not have bells. Covering those iconic blue and white domes are blue and white tiles from Czechoslovakia.
The cathedral is a combination of many architectural styles, but Romanesque Revival is predominant. The interior of the cathedral is opulently decorated with gold leaf throughout. Stained glass windows made in Germany, Belgium, and Cuenca grace this magnificent place. They used local marble for much of the church interior. Pink marble from Italy covers the floors. Twisted columns of wood similar to St. Peter’s Basilica make up the main altar. However, gold leaf covers all of the wood including the altar.
When you think of a crypt, you might think dark, damp and dingy. The crypt of the New Cathedral is anything but that. We descended 30 some marble steps into the basement of the cathedral. The crypt is 96 meters in length. As you enter the crypt, lights come on to illuminate the beginning. As you move further down the long wide hall more lights come on in sections. Some very famous Cuenca residents are at rest in the crypt. Among them are Fray Vicente Solano and Remigio Crespo Toral. The Crypt was intended to be the burial place for important Cuencanos, religious figures, and military men although, today there is only room left for religious figures. At the end of the 96 meters lies a simple yet elegant alter. As you approach the altar, the entire crypt is illuminated. The crypt is truly a treasure onto itself.
You are missing out on a world treasure if you do not take the guided tour of the New Cathedral! Be sure to ask for the tour in English if you need it.
Another great thing to do in Cuenca is to visit the Covenant Museum.