Cuenca Museums: History, Art and Quirkiness

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We spend the day touring Cuenca museums which is unusual for me.

I don’t like museums. I have been to the British Museum twice, but lasted less than ten minutes both times. Also, I was bored at most of the museums in Bogota.

This is terrible to say but I really don’t care about ceramics or arrowheads or some piece of pottery or even old gold.

I do think it’s interesting that it has managed to survive centuries or even a millennium. But beyond that initial thought museums are boring.

I say that as a rule but there are always exceptions.

Raymond from Man on the Lam always seems to find really interesting museums like this biblical theme park or these weird museums in Istanbul. So I guess not all museums are horrifically boring.

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panama hat museum

I kept that in mind today. It’s raining in Cuenca.

I planned to meet up with my friend Joanna to explore the city. So it was either slush around in the cold rain or head to a museum.

Museums it is.

 

The Quirky Cuenca Museums

ayngelina

Barrancos Panama Hats Museum

“Panama hats come from Panama, right?”

Mention this statement to anyone from Cuenca, and you will not need to be told again that Panama hats actually originated in Ecuador.

Ecuadorians made the hats famous when they wore them while building the Panama canal. Cuenca is been home to several factories that have produced the hats for generations.
 

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The first museum was for Panama Hats. It’s more like a Panama Hat store with a small museum.

We were quickly approached to see if we wanted a tour. Normally I’d say no but we had an entire afternoon to kill.

This factory and museum has been making the fedora hats in the traditional method for nearly seventy years. 

The museum offers a fascinating look at the production of the hats.

You can also have a hat custom made on site for you with a variety of different finishes and materials.

I had no idea how they were made, until this tour.

It didn’t take long and it was actually fascinating to learn that it can take up to five months to make the expensive ones.

 
medicine museum

Museo Historia de la Medicina – Cuenca Medical Museum

This museum is located in the hospital of Cuenca. It features a wide range of exhibits tracing the history and traditions of medicine.

It includes many pieces of equipment that doctors couldn’t imagine using today.

Among the more disturbing exhibits are the mummified remains of a fetus and a three year old boy, both displayed in glass cabinets here.

But on the whole this is an interesting place to visit.

 A bit less formal, you can simply walk in without anyone knowing. Simply wander through vintage dental equipment on the first floor – including old teeth.

 
medicine museum

The second floor hosts everything from old x-rays to this old birthing chair where women had their legs strapped in – yikes.

It was a bit odd and eventually a woman found us asking for a $2 donation and to sign the guest book.

 
aboriginal museum

Museo de las Culturas Aborigenes

Joanna wanted to see the Museum of the Aboriginal Culture.

I didn’t mind as I do find indigenous cultures really fascinating, particularly in Ecuador where it is still so strong.

There are over twenty different indigenous cultures that have been identified to have lived in the territory of modern Ecuador over the past fifteen thousand years.

This museum explores the huge variety of artifacts discovered relating to these tribes and people found in the ruins.

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Among the highlights in the collection are the beautiful mirrors made of smooth black obsidian.

Also there is a collection of cooking utensils and crockery.

Unfortunately it was the most boring. There were lots of ceramics and bits of things that signs indicated they didn’t know what they were.

I resorted to amusing myself in the most juvenile way by taking photos of dildos from ancient times.

No one has ever called me mature.

Being able to speak Spanish can certainly help here.

One of the interesting aspects is the explanations of the different patterns used by the indigenous cultures while decorating their artifacts.

And with a third museum we called it a day. But there are a few more museums in Cuenca that I’ve visited later on.

 
 
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Museo Pumapungo 

By far the largest of the museums in Cuenca, this impressive building on Calle Larga has exhibits covering four floors and looking at a variety of different subjects.

Part of the museum looks at the Pre-Columbian history of Ecuador. And particularly of interest is a collection of shrunken heads, which came from the Shuar culture in the north west of the Amazon.

While there is a wonderful collection of ceramics, textiles and musical instruments from the indigenous cultures of the country.

The gallery of Ecuadorean artwork features more modern work, with portraits of the country’s heroes Simon Bolivar and Jose de Sucre, while more colonial history is displayed in the extensive collection of coins and other artifacts.

Next door is the Museo del Banco Central, or the Central Bank Museum.

 

Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno

Many of Cuenca’s museums look at the long and varied history of the country, and particularly the history of the city itself.

This museum is located in a historic ‘House of Temperance’ building actually bucks that trend, displaying some of the best modern art in the city.

There are over three hundred works in total at the museum, including collections of paintings by Ecuadorean artists Ordonez Luis Crespo and Manuel Rendon Seminario, along with work by Venezuelan sculptor Jesus Soto.

As well as displaying some of the impressive South American art of the last century or so, there are also regular classes held for young people within the museum.

 

El Sagrario

Lying across the square from the New Cathedral in Cuenca, construction began on the original cathedral in the city in 1567. Today it is still in very good condition.

As well as being a great example of colonial architecture, the building has now become a museum of religious art.

Before the beautiful gold and pastel colours of the altar, there is a collection of life-sized sculptures depicting Jesus Christ and his apostles at the Last Supper.

This is a truly beautiful place to visit. It is certainly worth an hour or two if you are also intending to visit the current cathedral in the city center.

 

Prohibido Centro Cultural

There has been a long history of underground and niche art in Cuenca.

This traditional building, constructed of adobe in the way of many older buildings seen outside the city. It is home to some fascinating and dramatic art.

This is certainly a collection that will split people as to whether they like it or not.

There are graphic depictions of death, nudity and sexuality among the items on display.

There are also some interesting interpretations of indigenous art and religious work too.
 

 

 

Pin it For Later: Best Museums in Cuenca Ecuador

 

Lead image (c) Juan Pablo Malo, pin image by Isabel Garger,

Join the Conversation

  1. Raymond @ Man On The Lam says:

    A birthing chair from olden times?!?

    This is going to be the best Christmas gift to myself ever.

    (and thanks for the shout-out!)

  2. I feel like this is a museum I would purposely seek out. Because that is some creepily-fascinating stuff.

  3. Get yourself to the ABBA museum in Stockholm. I guarantee you won’t find that boring!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I do like ABBA…

  4. Oh my word the Aboriginal museum sounds painful. I’m with you I can’t really stand museums. Matt and I got a LOT of slack for not wanting to go to the Louvre. Meh, I stand by our decision, would rather wander and explore the city than to hang out with thousands of other tourists struggling to see vases.

    1. While Museums can be boring,and I’ve been to many that are, The Louvre is not a place you “see a vase”. It has some of the most seminal artwork ever made, and the archictecture alone makes it worth it.

  5. Oh boy, that sala de ginecologia looks creepy!
    But I guess it kinda makes it look easy…sit down and ploop! jeje

    I love museums, just not on crowded days. And I would not try to do 2 or more in 2 day, that is just gonna put me off them sorta like you are. But some of them are interesting.

    Checking out old teeth? Nah
    Checking out sculptures of vaginas in Hobart? They had the collection replaced right before my visit. Damn. That’s what I had gone to see duh! ( I kid mija )

    The MONA in Hobart is my all time fav though- they had a pooping machine. It doesn’t get any better or weirder than that.

  6. I am typically not a fan of museums either. The Museum of Medicine looks interesting though. It kind of reminded me of the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. They have a whole lotta creepy stuff in there.

  7. Martine @ Chompchomp says:

    All those teeth are just WEIRD! I always have big plans during travel to visit museums but we generally end up filling our days with eating and drinking!

  8. Looks like you just spoke my mind, I have always found museums boring to the hell and always make it a point to exclude them from my itinerary. Especially,found the museum of old teeth really bizarre as I always do!

  9. TammyOnTheMove says:

    Museum of Medicine sounds and looks freaky. That gynecological chair looks scary. 🙂 I usually don’t like museums, but if they exhibit quirky stuff then I quite like them actually. The sex museum in Amsterdam is quite fun for example.

  10. I personally am not a fan of museums either, but these ones sound genuinely fun. You have to find the little known ones to have a good time.

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