Onion-skin City

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Everything is more than meets the eye in Cuenca. You could swear that you were standing amid a well-preserved Spanish American Historic Center, only to find some ten or so edifices built prior to the 19th century. You marvel at the French-influenced wrought-iron balconies, enter courtyards and admire ‘must-be’ French wallpaper, imagining the French-dominated society that ‘obviously’ prevailed throughout the early 1900s in Cuenca. But then you learn that archaeologist Paul Rivet was, for years, the only Frenchman in town. Curiously, little is left of what was once nothing less than the Inca’s second capital, the majestic Tumipamba, birthplace of the sixth Hanan-dynasty Emperor, Inca Huayna Capac. Yet only the archaeological site at Pumapungo vaguely suggests a settlement that was once believed to have rivaled the grandeur of imperial Cuzco. What about the chiseled features of the ancestral Cañari, the ancient inhabitants of this land? We can scarcely make them out from the round eyes of the chola cuencana… It must all be here – somewhere – if not swirling in the air, then perhaps running in the blood, or hiding in crevices, as ‘identity’ continues incessantly to engrave its refurbished face onto the city’s woodwork. Cuenca will surely take on different façades with the times. But will she ever truly change?

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