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Is Cuenca beautiful?

By Gil Castle

While “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” (as Plato was the first to say), we can nonetheless answer the question fairly objectively.

Beautiful cities can be analyzed using 15 categories of civic beauty. The 15 categories – hereafter, the 15 “Beautiful Facets” – emerge from research conducted by CitiesBeautiful.org [http://citiesbeautiful.org/] on “common threads” in theories of beauty from the ancient Greece to the present day. The perception of beauty is both an emotional and intellectual process, involving all our senses.

Cities widely acknowledged as beautiful inevitably have notable buildings, parks, and other civic features encompassing most, if not all, of the “Beautiful Facets.” So, does Cuenca have notable civic features matching the 15 Beautiful Facets? We are going to look for matches for each of the Beautiful Facets, in a two-part series of articles. This is the first of those two articles.

A note about the order in which the Beautiful Facets are presented.The CitiesBeautiful website includes a free psychometric test [http://citiesbeautiful.org/civic-beauty-ranking-test] with which visitors can determine which of the Beautiful Facets resonate with them the most (per Plato’s adage). To date, almost a thousand visitors from around the globe have taken the psychometric test in English, Spanish or French. The order in which the Beautiful Facets will be presented in this two-part series mirrors the average rankings of those thousand test takers, from most favorite Beautiful Facet to least favorite.

This article begins with the Beautiful Facet called “Nature”. You’ll see that each Beautiful Facet is briefly defined, followed by examples from around the world, and finally an example of that Beautiful Facet in Cuenca. (I am citing one example from among multiple examples that typically are available for each of the Beautiful Facets.)

Though ultimately you must decide for yourself, ample evidence exists that Cuenca is indeed beautiful!

*  *  *  *  *

NATURE – Beautiful experiences originating in the natural world – ultimately the source of everything humankind knows and frequently the benchmark for the perfection humankind pursues. Typical civic features: municipal parks, formal and botanical gardens, zoos and aquariums. Examples worldwide:  Hyde Park / Kensington Gardens (London, UK), Ueno Park (Tokyo, Japan), Golden Gate Park (San Francisco, USA), and in Cuenca – Paradise Park (Parque Paraiso) and many others.

ELEGANCE – Beautiful experiences emanating from the well-proportioned, refined, graceful qualities of an object, sometimes described mathematically. Typical civic features: palaces and other exquisitely designed edifices. Examples worldwide: Winter Palace / Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia), Chrysler Building (New York, USA), Conservancy of Flowers (San Francisco, USA), and in Cuenca – Old City Hall.

GRANDEUR – Beautiful Experiences emerging from awe of the magnitude, impressiveness, eminence of a place or structure, notably those engendering a sense of affinity and pride. Examples worldwide: very large, impressive building complexes, other types of engineering feats, and plazas. Examples worldwide: Great Pyramid (Giza, Egypt), Grand Palace (Bangkok, Thailand), Burj Khalifa (Dubai, UAE), and in Cuenca – the New Cathedral.

MENTORING –Beautiful experiences stemming from teaching, inspiring, or otherwise contributing to the lives of humankind directly (e.g., one-on-one instruction) or indirectly (e.g., writing a book), including the self-esteem from being qualified to do so. Typical civic features: universities, museums, and libraries. Examples worldwide:  British Museum (London, England), Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris, France), University of Bologna (Bologna, Italy), and in Cuenca – Museo Pumapungo.

CHRONICLE – Beautiful experiences coming from interactions with historical streetscapes, buildings, photographs, songs, and other reminders of the past – which underscore our universal affiliations over space and time. Typical civic features: salient historical sites, restored/heritage areas, cemeteries, and history-of-our-city museums. Examples worldwide: City History Museums of Paris, New York City, Athens, etc. – notably the members of the international museum society CAMOC), and in Cuenca – El Centro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

SENSATION – Beautiful experiences bursting from the vivification of our biological senses (visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory, tactile, proprioceptive, gravitational), arguably enhanced by awareness training. Typical civic features: open air markets (especially food-centric), beach fronts, and viewpoint/panoramas. Examples worldwide: Grand Bazaar (Istanbul, Turkey), Porte de Clignancourt Flea Market (Paris, France), Fisherman’s Wharf (San Francisco, USA), and in Cuenca – the citywide panorama from Turi Church.

ORIGINALITY – Beautiful experiences springing from appealingly novel, unprecedented, or even unique circumstances and interpretations, including those one personally causes to happen (i.e., creativity). Typical civic features: unique and compelling buildings, bridges, and other manmade structures. Examples worldwide: Lotus Temple (Delhi, India), Niterói Contemporary Art Museum (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), La Pedrera (Barcelona, Spain), and in Cuenca – Zahir 360 Hotel.

No doubt you can think of more examples for each of the Beautiful Facets, and I certainly encourage you to do so. Again, ample evidence exists that Cuenca is indeed beautiful!
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Gil and Deborah Castle

Gil Castle founded CitiesBeautiful.org [http://citiesbeautiful.org/] in 2013 to promote greater understanding and appreciation of beautiful cities worldwide. The website currently has detailed interactive maps pinpointing 1,800 beautiful places in 25 cities on six continents. Among many other components, the website also has a free e-book with a detailed explanation of the 15 categories of civic beauty, and their application to the 25 mapped cities. Gil and his wife Deborah became permanent residents of beautiful Cuenca in 2010.