Cuenca received its current name 459 years ago today when the Viceroy of Peru and Marquess of Canete, Andres Hurtado de Mendoza, ordered the city renamed for his Spanish hometown.
At the time of its Spanish founding in 1556, Cuenca bore the temporary name of Santa Ana de los Rios, which had replaced the Inca name of Tomebamba several years earlier. Historians point out that the community had been continuously inhabited for at least 3,000 years before the arrival of the Inca and the Spanish. Before the Inca, it had been the capital of the Cañari nation for about 1,000 years.
Hurtado de Mendoza sent the mayor of Quito, Gil Ramirez Davalos, to Cuenca to perform the dedication ceremony.
Hurtado de Mendoza and Ramirez described Cuenca as vast, fertile valley with an abundant, year-round water supply, with forests and marble mines nearby. Said Ramirez, “This area is nearly as ideal as any place I have every seen.”
When Ramirez made the dedication, he was surrounded by vast piles of Inca stones. Tomebamba, which had been built as the northern capital of the Inca Empire, had been destroyed during the Inca civil war, shortly before the arrival of the Spanish. The city was the birthplace of Huayna Capac, the last emperer of the unified Inca Empire.
The Inca stones were used in the foundations of many of the buildings in Cuenca. In fact, there were so many of them that they continued to be used until the early 20th century.
The first area of modern-day Cuenca to be developed was the Todo Santos neighborhood, just west of the Pumapungo Inca temple. Early Spanish settlers built flour mills along the Tomebamba River and Todo Santos became the bread-making center for the new city.