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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.