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Quito: A Brief & Beautiful History

This post is dedicated to Hank, my favorite history teacher and inspired by an awesome walking tour that we had courtesy of Free Walking Tour Ecuador, thanks again!

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Quito, we had heard mixed reviews from fellow travelers. The most picturesque and popular part of Quito is the Old Town – often times referred to as the Historic Center. And it’s popular and picturesque for very good reason. It’s considered the to be the largest, least-altered and best preserved historic center in all of the Americas. It was the first city in 1978 to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

I enjoyed our 3+ hour stroll through this part of town so much I wanted to bring that experience to anyone that takes the time to read this blog. Of course nothing would beat the real thing so if you have a chance to spend a couple of days in Quito I would highly recommend it.

The following is not all-encompassing, it’s the places and buildings that we saw, that we took pictures of. There is definitely more to this city and more to the Historic Center.

No walking tour that starts at 10:30am is worth going on unless you have had a hearty breakfast. Toast, boiled eggs, fresh mango juice, coffee and water had us feeling great.

This was by far the largest tour group that we had been a part of. There must have been 30 people. I was skeptical that it would be enjoyable with that many. However I was proven wrong, this was an awesome tour.

Ok, perhaps not historically significant, but whatever. This shot is taken inside of Mercado Central, a place to find a little of everything. If you look closely at this picture you will notice that the meat store is right next to the toy store. I couldn’t help but chuckle at this merchandising.

This is the Teatro Sucre, one of Quito’s most well-known theaters located in the Plaza del Teatro. The theatre was built between 1879 and 1886 by an Italian. The grounds on which it was built wasn’t always used in such a classy way. In the 1600’s a bull-fighting ring was built here to give the wealthy residents something to do on the weekends. But it became to popular (aka too many poor people began to attend) and soon the open-air stadium was turned into a butchery. WTF? Because of the lack of sanitation (open-air meat butchery without any refrigeration) disease quickly spread throughout the area and finally after closing it down the building of the theatre was eventually commissioned. This current structure was renovated between 1994-2003 and hosts a variety of plays and concerts today.

This photo is taken from the same location, within Plaza del Teatro. Pay attention to the blue house/building. This is Teatro Variedades Ernesto Alban. The theatre is named after Ernesto Alban, the man credited with bringing the Ecuadorian arts to the masses by hosting many free events while the Sucre (across the plaza) was catering to an exclusively wealthy crowd.

I really like this shot. You get to see the gigantic tour group (on the right), the Spanish-Colonial architecture of the buildings on the street and Basílica del Voto National in the background. Basílica del Voto is known not for the traditional gargoyles that adorn it’s outside walls, but instead they built traditional Ecuadorian animals in their place – such as iguanas, the Galapagos tortoises and armadillos.

Welcome to Plaza de la Independencia. The main plaza in Quito and arguably the heart of Old Town. There is so much happening in this picture. You can see some of the modern additions to this plaza such as the light fixtures and landscaping. The statue in the middle is dedicated to the attempt at independence from the Spaniards, the church to the left is the Cathedral of Quito and to the right of the statue flying the Ecuadorian flag is Palacio de Carondelet (aka the Presidential Palace)

Plaza de la Independencia

Plaza de la Independencia is dedicated to the first attempt to break free from Spanish rule. On August 10, 1809, a group of Ecuadorian-born Spaniards (parents from Spain, children were born in Ecuador and didn’t have the same rights as the Spanish born parents) decided that they no longer wanted to be ruled by thrown halfway across the world who had never stepped foot in their country.

The group attacked and broke free from the crown. However, word quickly spread to present-day Lima where Spain had a strong military presence and after a 4-month trek Spanish soldiers arrived in Quito and took the city back, in-prisoning not only the group responsible, but their family members as well. Almost 1 year to the date of the rebellion, on August 9, 1810 in an effort to make sure that no one else dared try to de-throne the Spanish, soldiers broke into the prison housing the rebels and killed every single person that was jailed. But they weren’t satisfied. After wiping out the entire prison they took to the streets and murdered another 200 innocent people – which amounted to 10% of Quito’s population at the time.

Roughly 12 years later the man’s name who you can find all over Peru, Ecuador, Columbia & Venezuela – known as The Liberator, Simón Bolívar – would conquer Quito and free the city from Spanish rule.

This beautiful church was originally built in the 1500s and 1995 was elevated to the Cathedral of Quito making it the senior-most Catholic church in Ecuador. The insides of this church (and many others in Quito) are stunning. If you’re a fan of religious art this is the place for you. One of the most famous pieces of artwork is the Ecuadorian version of “The Last Supper”. In this version the guests have much darker skin and the main meal is Cuy – more commonly known as Guinea Pig – a traditional dish eaten by many Ecuadorians!

Not my best photography, but it will have to do. This is a close up of the Palacia de Carondelet, or President’s Palace. This has been the place where all presidents in Ecuador have worked and lived except for the current president, Rafael Correa, who has decided that he does not need a palace because he is not royalty. He lives in his house in northern Quito and commutes to work each day. Visitors can tour the palace with a valid passport – and if they’re lucky they can catch a glimpse of the president himself!

Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus. Church of the Society of Jesus Christ. This is the #1 rated “Thing to Do” in Quito according to, and after having visited this I understand. Construction of this gem began in 1605 and didn’t commence until 1765 (160 years later – I guess there was bureaucracy back then, huh?)

Photos are not allowed inside the Church of the Society of Jesus – and so we only snapped a couple of quick ones. We’ve been inside churches in France & Italy – including the Vatican, and I thought this church was the most impressive. The entire building is covered in 23k Gold. It was rumored that when Ecuador was going through their financial crisis in 1999 that the gold in this building could have paid their entire national debt off. Here are some unbelievable pictures of this place.

The Church and Monastery of St. Francis. Another gorgeous church with an interesting history in Quito. Shortly after the founding of Quito, construction began on this church in 1534 and was completed 70 years later in 1604. It’s rumored that a talented Ecuadorian artist was commissioned to build and decorate much of the structure. He was fronted money and given plenty of time. However, the young bachelor spent the money on booze and women and lived the good life until the day before the project was due. Back then it wasn’t a write-up by your boss, not completing your work resulted in death. The legend goes that he made a deal with the devil. He traded his soul for the completion of the job – every last brick would have to be laid by noon the next day. The devil held his end of the bargain, but the young artist was clever. Right before noon struck he removed a single brick from a small room in the corner of the building. At 12:01pm he showed the devil that in fact not “every last brick” had been laid and he kept his soul.

Again, pictures were not allowed so I was only able to get a quick one in. The insides were under renovation but still looked incredible. Mass was taking place while we silently walked through. The churches in Quito are amazing.

We stopped for a few minutes at a local Confiteria – or candy makers store in Old Town Quito. As proud cat owners we loved the name, but we also learned something. The majority of Ecuadorians DO NOT have green eyes. The few that do are called “Gatos”. This candy maker has green eyes and embraced his nickname. Traditional candies include what we would call back home “Boston Baked Beans”- except these are fresh and made right in front of you and taste real niiiice.

This hill is called El Panecillo. It’s tough to tell from here, but that statue on top of hill is 45 meters (almost 150 feet) tall and is made from over 7000 pieces of aluminum. This is one of the youngest highlights of our walking tour having been erected in 1976.

The End.

I think that I barely scratched the surface of history in Quito, but it was still a ton of fun. We spent 3 nights in this city but I am sure history buffs would gladly spend weeks.

The walking tour wasn’t the only thing that Lindsay and I banged out. We spent a night touring the local street vendors trying traditional foods like tripa de baca (tripe from a cow), Pinchos (think kabobs with pork sausage and potatoes), frittada (fried pork pieces and traditional tortillas) and our favorite lacra de papa – a potato soup with avocado and cheese.

We also took a day trip to Parque National Cotopaxi and hiked to over 5,000M where we took pictures with the glacier coming down from the mountaintop.

Quito was a very pleasant surprise for us. If you’re thinking about traveling to Ecuador I highly recommend spending a few nights in this charming city.


Cotopaxi National Park

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