By Jane Hiltbrand
Photos courtesy of Jane Hiltbrand

This country house takes its name from the area in which it is located, Chaguarchimbana, on Calle de las Herrerias. Chaguarchimbana means chaguarquero, or the shallowest place for crossing the river. No one knows exactly when the area gained this name, but it pre-dates the colonial period.

During the Inca period, the Royal Road passed by this place, connecting the two most important Incan cities, namely Tomebamba and Cuzco. In the colonial period, the area was populated by the city’s wealthy families because of its scenic landscape, and also because it was an advantageous site for obtaining farming produce to meet daily needs.

Records indicate that in 1832 the property belonged to Juan Izquierdo del Prado, the city council’s record keeper. Upon his death, the estate was divided into two parts, with the River Yanuncay serving as the common boundary.  José Miguel Narciso Valdivieso purchased this part of the land in 1862, and in 1875 it was inherited by his son Antonio, who built the country house as a holiday home.

In 1908 Chaguarchimbana passed into the hands of his niece Florencia Astudillo Valdivieso.

HACIENDAS IN ECUADOR – Casa Chaguarchimbana - Issue 46

Florencia Astudillo Valdivieso from Cuenca was an interesting and powerful woman.  She was the largest landowner in Ecuador at the beginning of the 1900’s.

Her parents had been very wealthy, and they had two daughters. When Florence’s sister decided to become a nun, she transferred all of her inheritance rights to her sister, so Florence ended up being the sole owner of an enormous fortune. 

HACIENDAS IN ECUADOR - Casa Chaguarchimbana - Issue 46

It was said that Miss Florencia, who was the richest woman in Ecuador in those years, did not want to share her enormous fortune with anyone, and so she did not allow any interested beau to approach her.

HACIENDAS IN ECUADOR - Casa Chaguarchimbana

It was restored in 1992, where it housed the Museum of the Earth and the Arts of Fire under the responsibility of the Paúl Rivet Foundation. Later it passed into the hands of the Municipality of Cuenca.  The casa now houses El Museo de las Artes Del Fuego.

HACIENDAS IN ECUADOR – Casa Chaguarchimbana - Issue 46
HACIENDAS IN ECUADOR – Casa Chaguarchimbana - Issue 46

At the time, Florence Astudillo became the owner. Casa Chaguarchimbana was one of the most elegant mansions in the region, in the middle of the city and the countryside, and considered a house full of luxuries and comforts, with wide corridors, gardens, and murals that adorned the front facade. 

This colonial-style house is arranged around a patio, two floors, a large entrance gate and an entrance corridor. It also shows characteristics of the region: wide corridors, bluish or lilac colors on the walls and a watch tower where one could observe Cuenca.

Currently some of the rooms are used as offices, some of the rooms are being used for art shows, and some of the rooms including the balconies, are often locked, and not on display for the public to enter. I was very fortunate to first visit the Casa in 2020, which is when I took many of these photos.

On the second-floor balcony there is a series of murals circa 1910 and inspired by European prints, a very frequent practice among painters of that time.

At the opposite end of the Los Herrerias Plaza, facing Casa Chaguarchimbana, stands a dramatic statue of “El Vulcan.”  The statue commemorates all the ironworkers who used to work in this area. In fact, several ironworkers still do, although not anywhere near as many as in colonial times when they were a very necessary part of life.  The statue was installed in the plaza in 1997.  On special occasions, it is lit up from the inside, which makes it an even more dramatic Cuenca sight.

HACIENDAS IN ECUADOR – Casa Chaguarchimbana - Issue 46

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