Home > Ecuador > Exploring unkwnown corners of Quito, the capital of Ecuador, Part one

Exploring unkwnown corners of Quito, the capital of Ecuador, Part one

Quito, the historic capital of Ecuador has been for centuries the center of power of the legendary Kingdom of Quitu; later as the Northern Capital of the Inca Empire and during the Spanish colony, the flourishing hub of art in the Americas, as capital of the Royal Audience of Quito and, since 1830, after the Independence Wars, the official capital of the Independent and Democratic Republic of Ecuador. The ancient metropolis, cradled at the foothills of the mighty Pichincha volcano and surrounded by stunning views of snow-covered giant volcanoes and Andean mountains has always been a city of extraordinary beauty and a rich cultural heritage.  So much so that, in 1978, UNESCO chose Quito as the first city in the world to be declared a World Heritage Site. Quito’s Historic Center is recognized as Latin America’s largest and best preserved and its many historic, architectonic and artistic treasures are actual “musts” on the list of national and particularly foreign visitors.  However, there are also some “unknown” corners well worth checking up.  With this in mind, today, a small group of friends and I decided to explore some of the “rarely seen” city attractions.

We start up near the southern “border” of the city’s Historic Center.  As we pass underneath the “Arch of the Queen”, a 17th century monument, we make a short visit to the City’s Museum, a restored three hundred year old hospital, converted now into a fascinating theme-museum which tells the city’s rich and millenary history in panels, photos and exhibits.  Right across the street is the 350-year old Convent and Cloister of El Carmen Alto, with its beautiful colonial church and their own collection of religious art.  A curiosity of this convent is the selling of delicious local sweets, honey and medicinal herbs which the nuns do through a wooden spinning-wheel, so you never get to see their faces, just hear their voices while you exchange money for the goods you purchase.

Now we head on south and the El Panecillo Hill looks like a giant mountain, strangely “stuck” in the center of a flat valley and crowned by the immense metallic statue of the Winged Virgin of Quito, all framed by Quito’s famous blue Equatorial sky, shining brilliantly on this sunny morning. As we emerge into the 24 de Mayo Boulevard (the date commemorates Ecuador’s final Independence battle against Spain in 1822), we can see to our west the southern silhouette of the grand Pichincha Volcano, its foothills painted in green and also contrasting against that unique Quiteño-blue sky….

A couple of blocks down the Boulevard we find one of the entrances to La Ronda Street, claimed to be the heart of Quito’s oldest neighborhood. La Ronda is a single-lane very narrow and slightly winding cobblestone street framed by typically colonial Spanish-style houses, all painted in white, with their traditional balconies filled with flower pots and red geraniums. Most of the centuries’ old houses are now restored and converted either into small cafes and restaurants, specialized in traditional Ecuadorian and particularly “Quiteño” food, beverages and music or into workshops and ateliers where local artists and craftsmen and women keep up with some ancestral handicrafts of enormous skill, color and value.  The charming indoor courtyards and stone fountains add a magic aura to the area.  Some days of the week there is a demonstration of ancestral games and we are lucky to see and to participate on some of the amusing and rather unique games and contests, a great deal of fun.  Being close to the noon hour, we step inside one of the charming little restaurants to try the delicious cheese-filled and sugar-sprinkled flour empanadas; a typical “locro”, a potato soup with small and soft chunks of cooked pork-skins and an equally typical dessert of figs and fresh cheese.

After lunch we take a last glance at La Ronda and stop briefly at a workshop where three artisans, including a young woman, create real pieces of art in wax, to produce the amazing and very colorful wax-candles, some of them of considerable size, used for religious processions, altars’ decoration and special religious occasions.  But there is still more to see and do, so we move on. The rest of the story will continue on our next issue.

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