The southern highlands had a colorful history even before the Spanish conquest. These were the lands of the Cañari, an independent culture with exceptional skill in producing ceramics, fine weavings, gold jewelry and other metalwork.
In the late-15th century the Cañari were conquered by the Inca, who built several major centers. These included the city of Tomebamba at present-day Cuenca, and the fortress of Ingapirca, the best-preserved pre-colonial ruin found in Ecuador today. The Inca influence was short lived, however, and the Spanish conquistadors under Francisco Pizarro took control by the 1530s. Cuenca was (re) founded relatively late, in 1557. Several other important towns of the region were established earlier, such as Loja in 1548.