Quito is a big city in Ecuador with a rich history and unique location. It was actually the second city in the world to be designated a “Cultural World Heritage City”, which happened in 1978. To help preserve this heritage, buildings in Quito’s historic center can not change their facade.
Because I wanted to get better acquainted with the area, I took a city tour with Gray Line Ecuador, which gave me insight into the historic center of Quito, as well as the famous “Middle of the World”.
The day started off with a prompt pickup at the Swisshotel in Quito’s La Mariscal area. I was greeted by a friendly tour guide who spoke both English and Spanish.
The first stop of the day was the Basilica del Voto Nacional. It’s the biggest Neo-Gothic style church in Latin America. The church, which was built between 1882 and 1987, is the highest building in Ecuador at 361 feet. Additionally, people often compare its impressive facade with that of the Notre Dame in Paris and St.Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. At the site, you’ll find three important Ecuadorian features:
1. The gargoyles of the church actually depict native Ecuadorian animals
2. In the large, circular stained glass window on the steeple, you’ll find native Ecuadorian plants
3. The pink stone, known as andacita stone, is from the Andes and a part of many important buildings in Quito
Our next stop was Benalcazar Square, the first square built in Quito. Here, you’ll find a statue of Sebastian de Benalcazar, the Inca who set Quito on fire to stop the Spaniards from taking it over. Apparently, the Incas and Spaniards had made a deal, that said as long as the Spaniards didn’t corrupt Incan women and traditions, they could stay. The Spaniards agreed in an attempt to trick the Incas, and when Benalcazar figured this out, he destroyed the city.
Next, we visited the building where the vice president works. Bullet holes can be clearly seen, as Ecuadorians tend to solve their problems through gunfire. The city is very passionate, and many protests go on all the time. In fact, in 1997 Quito had three different presidents in one day, due to protesters.
If you’d like to see a protest, a big one happens every Monday in Independence Square. This is when the changing of the guard occurs, at 11:00am, and the president comes out onto the balcony. People take advantage of this, and try to get their voices heard. Moreover, the governmental palace, more commonly known as Carondelet Palace, is no longer inhabited by presidents, but is a free museum.
Fun fact: The last president who actually lived in Carondelet Palace claimed it had ghosts roaming the halls; however, most people believe this was just his conscience haunting him.
Independence Square, which used to be a bull fighting square, is surrounded by government buildings, religious quarters, and the oldest hotel in Quito, the Majestic Hotel, now called Plaza Grande Hotel. It’s also one of the most expensive, at $500 per night.
If you look at the statue in the center of the square, you’ll notice different symbols. The lion represents the Spanish leaving Ecuador, the laurel leaf represents peace, the condor with the broken chain equals force, and the women represent justice. You’ll also notice the church behind the monument has an Arabic style roof. This is because for a long time the Arabs had control of the Spanish.
To see an Italian Renaissance style of church, we visited El Sagrario Church. It’s the newest church in Quito, so there are not a lot of cultural artifacts to be seen. Because of this, it’s free to enter. Inside, there are many flowers, spring colors, ornate gold alters, and candles, giving it a somewhat romantic or whimsical feel.
The biggest church in Quito is La Compania, which is done in a Baroque style. Many think that, of the 50 churches in the historic center, this is the best. Covered in 23 karat gold, it took from 1605 to 1765 to create. There’s also something very uncommon inside. Instead of just recognizing one religious denomination, all five catholic religions are acknowledged. While mass still occurs on Sundays, It’s a museum during the rest of the week.
Our last important stop in the historic center was San Francisco Square and Church, the only place in Quito where you’ll find Inca heritage. This can be seen by looking at the stones of the square, which were laid by Incas. Likewise, the most important legend in Ecuador is based here, the legend of cantunya. Catunya was ordered to build the San Francisco Church, but was lazy and made a pact with the devil. He offered to trade his soul to have the church built by devils the night before the project was due to be complete. They worked all night, except there ended up being one stone missing. Because of this, Catunya got to keep his soul.
Across the street you’ll see the Cangotena hotel, the most expensive hotel in Quito for $600 a night.
For a complete view of Quito, the group headed to Panecillo Mountain. The mountain gets its name from its shape, which looks like “small bread” – which is what panacillo means in Spanish. Additionally, the site has a volcanic origin from 60,000 years ago. This is also where you’ll see the world’s only Virgin Mary statue containing wings. The statue has an apocalyptic meaning, and you can see The Virgin stepping on a snake with a dragon head, with her wings giving her the ability to fly away.
Out last stop was the “Mitad del Mundo”, or Middle of the world. Quito actually means “middle ground” in Catchua, and the line across the world, which is more than 19,013 feet long, cuts across here. This is also the place where many French scientists – the ones that are depicted by the many stone statues at the site – studied the Inca calendar and the sun’s rotation. In fact, they found that on March 24 and September 21 each year, there are no shadows for three minutes because the sun is perfectly overhead.
You can also experience zero centrifuge at this site, which can be seen by balancing an egg on the top of a nail.
This post was made possible by Gray Line Ecuador