The capital Quito is located – embedded in the Ecuadorian Andes (Sierra) – at an altitude of 2,850 m above sea level, only 22 km from the equator, in the east of the province of Pichincha. It was re-founded on December 6, 1534 by the Spanish officer Sebastián Benalcázar on the ruins of an ancient Inca city. About 80 buildings from this colonial era still exist today. Quito’s large colonial old town (Centro Histórico) with its numerous important buildings and monuments (including 40 churches and chapels and 16 convents) is responsible for Old Quito being the first city ever to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978: A reliquary of South American art! Thanks to the mild climate, which is strongly influenced by the mountains, Quito has also received the nickname City of Eternal Spring.
Tip 1: Mitad del Mundo
From Quito 25 km north is the Equator Monument “Mitad del Mundo”. The 30 m high monument commemorates the French-Spanish geodetic expedition from 1736 to 1744, which determined the position of the equator under the leadership of Charles de la Condamine. Here you can stand with one leg on the northern hemisphere and the other on the southern hemisphere of the Earth.
Furthermore, you can learn a lot about the culture and especially the knowledge of the cultures at the equator during a visit to the Sun Museum (Intinan). For example, more than 200 years before Condamine’s expedition, the Incas had already calculated the equator almost exactly with the simplest means. In the meantime, it has turned out that the builders at that time miscalculated by 240m.
Tip 2: Basilica of the National Vow
This church is one of the landmarks of the city. The special thing is that you can climb up the church tower. To do this, you walk up a few floors in the front part of the church. Then you walk across the church roof, which is an interesting experience, to the back part of the church. There, a free-floating ladder then leads up to the rear church tower. The view you have up there over the city and the surrounding mountains is really great.
In the front left church tower there is a small café on the upper floor. There you can eat a snack or just drink a coffee and enjoy the view over the city.
Tip 3: Church of the Society of Jesus
This church, built of andesite (volcanic rock), is an absolute must-see – even for diehard atheists! The lovingly worked exterior facade was commissioned in 1722 by the Bamberg Jesuit Father Leonhard Deubler. The gigantic church is – unlike Roman churches – crowned by two domes and was built in 4 phases. Large windows illuminate the entire splendor of the gold-decorated church interior, and the galleries with beautifully carved, gilded wooden latticework on the side aisle walls catch the eye.
The entire interior – with the exception of the stone column decorations – is rich in stucco work and virtually doused in gold. The church with its three-part main altar, in the center of which is the statue of the city saint Mariana de Jesús, is probably the richest church in South America. It is estimated that several tons of gold were used in its interior!
Tip 4: Historic Center
In the middle of the city’s checkerboard layout is the Plaza de la Independencia (also Plaza Grande or Plaza Mayor), in the center of which stands the figure of the Virgin of Independence (Virgen Apocalítica). Around the beautiful, park-like square are the Government Palace (Palacio de Gobierno or Palacio Presidencial), the Archbishop’s Palace (Palacio Arzboispal), the Cathedral (Catedral) and the City Hall (Municipio). Adjacent to these are plots of land, called manzanas, interrupted by large plazas with stone fountains; in the past, the city’s drinking water was drawn from them.
These squares were or are still surrounded by convents with high walls and city dwellings. The Franciscan monks were the first to leave their mark, followed by the Dominicans, Augustinians and Jesuits. The old town has well earned the nickname Monastery of America.
The old town is considered the place with the largest collection of important art treasures in South America.
Tip 5: Church and Convent of St. Francis
This architectural marvel was built by the Flemish founder Fray Jodoco Rike in the second half of the 16th century (by the way, the Flemish friar also brought the first grains of wheat, which he planted in today’s plaza). San Francisco is considered the largest and oldest church of Quito’s colonial era, and its interior combines different styles and eras from different countries.
The central nave is adorned with a Moorish-Spanish style Mudejar wooden ceiling, which, after being severely damaged by an earthquake, was decorated with gilded wood carvings and rich stucco work. The pointed arches of the vault contain late Gothic elements, the main altar is Baroque, and the Chinese pagodas (altars) illustrate the Far Eastern influence. The prancing Virgen Inmaculada de Quito is considered the only known winged virgin in the world.