Ecuador // The southern sierra //

Museo del Banco Central

About half a kilometre east of the Iglesia Todos los Santos, at the eastern end of Calle Larga, the Museo del Banco Central is Cuenca’s most polished and absorbing museum. The ground floor contains a room devoted to the Inca city of Tomebamba, displaying some beautiful Inca artefacts including jewellery, fertility symbols and ritualistic objects. Also on the ground floor is a collection of nineteenth-century art, dominated by religious paintings and sombre portraits, but with some wonderful costumbrista (folk art) pieces showing indigenous people dancing, playing the fiddle or roasting a hog. The highlight of the museum is the Sala Etnografía Nacional on the first floor, which illustrates the diversity of Ecuador’s indigenous cultures using day-to-day objects and reconstructions. Displays include an extraordinary exhibition of Shuar tsantsas (shrunken heads) from the southern Oriente; a model of a masked dancer from the southern sierra; a collection of festival costumes; and many musical instruments. At the bottom of the building is the Museo Numismático, holding coins and notes of the republican and colonial epochs, dating back to the mid-seventeenth century.

Entrance to the Museo del Banco Central includes access to the Pumapungo archeological park (same hours), right behind the museum, which is where most of the artefacts displayed in the museum’s archeological sala were found. Excavations have revealed this is where the most important religious buildings of Tomebamba were located, though all that’s left to see are the foundation walls. The site also features the so-called Jardines del Inca, combining the ruins with botanical displays of important Andean plants and a bird-rescue centre.


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