Cuenca is Ecuador's third largest city and the capital of the province of Azuay. In 1999, the UNESCO awarded Cuenca as a World Heritage Trust.
At first, Cuenca was known as Guapondeleg, which means "an area as large as heaven" in the Cañari language, because Cuenca used to be a Cañari colony. The Cañari language is now extinct, but there are still some places in Ecuador that preserve their original names according to their location. Cuenca was one of the first cities that came under the Inca Empire domination. When the Incas arrived to this city, they named it Tomebamba, which means "River Valley of Knives". Nowadays, one of the rivers of Cuenca has kept this name. The ceremonial center of Ingapirca, which was built by the Incas, is located some sixty kilometers north of Cuenca, in Hatun Cañar. This place is considered to be the most important archaeological place in the country. Ingapirca and Tomebamba were the central northern part of the Inca empire. In 1557, the Spanish came and founded Cuenca, in Tomebamba and called it "Santa Ana de los Cuatro Rios de Cuenca". After the independence of Spain, Cuenca became the capital of one of the three provinces that formed part of the "new republic", being Quito and Guayaquil the other two.
Ecuador's best guarded treasures, Cuenca, is also known as the "Athens of Ecuador" (La Atenas del Ecuador), because many notable writers, philosophers, artists and poets were born in Cuenca. Additionally, even though Cuenca is the economic center of Southern Sierra, it still maintains its old traditions. Many travelers like to visit the Azuay province and enjoy its beautiful landscapes, delicious typical food, buy handicrafts, or visit tourist centers.
Most of the streets in Cuenca are made of cobblestone, its buildings have an old colonial look with colorful balconies and its charming plazas and markets are very well preserved.
Cuenca is surrounded by four rivers, 52 churches and monasteries.