Once home to the royals, one of the few remaining houses — called Casas Colgadas — in the medieval town of Cuenca, Spain is the location of a highly-regarded Museo de Artes Abstracto Español. The establishment of this Museum of Abstract Arts in the 1960’s is credited mainly, if not exclusively, to one man. Fernando Zobel y Montojo. Born in Manila, Zobel belongs to a prominent Filipino-Hispanic family in the Philippines who also happens to be a passionate art patron and artist himself. Together with a couple of Spanish artists — Gerardo Rueda and Gustavo Torner — he realized his dream of a Museum and added significantly to this lovely town’s cultural offerings.


Museo de Artes Abstracto Español (Museum of Abstract Arts) in Cuenca, Spain.


The Museum is housed in one of the Casas Colgadas or Hanging Houses of Cuenca, Spain.



Cuenca is only a 45 minute ride on the AVE fast train from Madrid’s Atocha Station. You can do this as a day trip but you’d miss out seeing the medieval town especially its Casas Colgadas and Puente de San Pablo illuminated at night. Train ticket costs 28€ each way but what you’d spend, you’d save on more reasonably-priced meals and admission tickets to art museums and cathedral museums. I have no illusion I can cross the Puente de San Pablo in the dark (that’s what it promises!) guided only by the lights from under the bridge and the dramatically-illuminated hanging houses which include the Museum of Abstract Arts with its wooden balconies jutting out of the rocky ridge, hanging over the Huecar gorge. No. Crossing it in daylight at -5 Celsius with windchill is more than what i need. Besides, it is a deep gorge! If you have altitude problems, remember to look ahead. DON’T ever ever look down. And yes, walk fast towards the other end. 😉





The bridge : Puente de San Pablo crossing the Huecar Gorge in Cuenca, Spain.



But the simplicity, warmth and novelty of this Museum comforts you. Fernando Zobel is so loved in this heritage town that it named its railway station in his honor. Beat that! From the station you can ride 2 buses to Plaza Mayor (#12, then #1) or hail a cab for around 12€. In less than 20 minutes, you find Cuenca’s best attractions within and around the square. Just behind the Cuenca Cathedral (another must-see!)  is the Museum of Abstract Arts, housed in one of the Casas Colgadas, as if riding on the spine of a rocky ridge of this former Moorish fortress. Inside, abstract art in painting and sculpture compete with another “abstraction”. The windows and balconies show the bridge (Puente de San Pablo) crossing the Huecar Gorge with the former convent, now a parador, in full view across the gorge.




One of the “abstractions” inside the Museo: prized view from the balcony of the Casa Colgada or Hanging House. Cuenca, Spain.


Abstract Art by Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)


Inside the Museum of Abstract Arts. Cuenca, Spain.



I must confess I am not a big fan of abstract arts but Zobel’s modernist art is quite distinct. Like a signature style, he uses surgical syringe in some of his paintings to produce those long, sharp, more defined lines. It is likewise interesting to note that Zobel finished medical studies in the University of Santo Tomas before completing his studies in Harvard University (history & literature) where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. From medicine to literature & history, to art. In his lifetime, he visited many Museums to view the works of art masters and drew inspirations to create “reactions” in abstract forms. He also helped, tutored and nurtured the careers of then budding Spanish modernist painters like Antonio Saura, Antonio Lorenzo, Eusebio Sempere, Martín Chirino López and many others. These protegés’ works are also on display in this Cuenca Museum.




Abstract Art by Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)


Abstract Art by Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)



At the risk of sounding shallow, let me say that I do find Fernando’s notebooks cum sketchpads as interesting as his obramaestras.  The notes and sketches are very neat and detailed. Like there’s “order” in his art. Hardly any smudges or erasures. Like he gives his art a lot of thought before committing himself on paper. And his handwriting? Fluid strokes from this brilliant artist.




Notebook of Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)


Notebook of Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)


Notebook of Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)



For all he has accomplished, no less than the King of Spain bestowed upon Zobel the Medalla de Oro al Mérito en las Bellas Artes in 1983. A fitting tribute to one man who dreamed and helped many along the way. A year later, Fernando Zobel died of a heart attack while visiting Rome, Italy. His remains were buried in his beloved Cuenca, in a hill overlooking the Huecar Gorge which gave him inspiration for many of his landscape paintings. In 2006, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Merit by then Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for his contributions in the arts.




Abstract Art by Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)


Abstract Art by Fernando Zobel. (1924-1984)



On a final note, let me again say that I have no pretensions over my art appreciation but I am extremely proud that a Filipino (yes, born in Ermita and a citizen of our country!) gained the love and respect of the people of Cuenca, even the entire nation of Spain and yes, the rest of the world in the field of art. The visit to Cuenca was prompted more by the fame and respect bestowed upon Fernando Zobel de Ayala y Montojo, more than the medieval town’s other cultural treasures. I was adequately intrigued that this heritage town so honored him to name their train station after him. Arriving at Fernando Zobel Train Station in Cuenca lets you off on a good start. And then ……. lets you finish with pride in your heart.