Street with low houses and woman carrying a basket
Art,  Culture & tradition,  Ecuador,  Lens-Artists

Weird and wonderful: forbidden culture in Cuenca

It isn’t so often that, while out on a city walk with a guide, you are asked if you are easily offended. But that was the question posed by Wilson, who gave us an excellent tour in Cuenca, Ecuador.

He had already shown us many of the city’s sights, some famous and some less so. We had visited the beautiful Plaza San Sebastian and the Museo de Arte Moderno. We had watched a traditional tin craftsman at work and wandered the streets of the old neighbourhood around the Plaza del Cruz del Vado.

It was near that plaza that Wilson, reassured that we wouldn’t be offended, proposed stopping for coffee in a rather unusual café. I never refuse a coffee; and his hesitation about taking us had only served to intrigue us, so of course we accepted the suggestion.

Prohibido Centro Cultural

In one of the old houses on La Condamine, which are gradually being restored (see my featured photo), a local artist with a bizarre but very creative mind has undertaken a restoration very different in style. Yes, the old house (dating from 1810) has retained its traditional layout, with small rooms leading off open courtyards. But the décor in those rooms would I am sure shock the original inhabitants; although if you go with an open mind you will be intrigued and entertained.

We had to knock for entry and were charged just 50 cents. Believe me, it was worth it! The whole house is an intriguing shrine to the macabre. There are skulls, coffins and tombstones; religious imagery with more than a twist; designs inspired by tattoos, heavy metal music and black magic; even a guillotine! And if you want to use the bathroom facilities (and you really should!) you will find yourself washing your hands in water that flows from the ‘private parts’ of an appropriate sculpture; a goddess for the men and an impish creature for the women.

As you can imagine we spent quite some time looking around and taking photos. But after a while we took our seats with Wilson in the small open courtyard where we had a coffee. The artist’s wife sat with us and was stringing flowers as she chatted, preparing them for their afternoon visit to the family graves as part of the Day of the Dead celebrations. It was an added bonus to learn from her more about how they marked the festival.

Our visit here was a truly weird and wonderful experience that we definitely hadn’t expected in this beautiful Colonial city, and just perfect for this week’s Lens Artists Challenge theme!

The centre appears from online reviews to be coming through the pandemic OK, which is good to know. It is really worth visiting when in Cuenca if you want a change from the more conventional sights; and if, as Wilson put it, you are not easily offended!

I visited Cuenca in 2012

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