Quito’s Historic Center, recognized as Latin America’s largest and best preserved and the world’s first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site is the centerpiece of interest for most national and foreign visitors.  However, there are numerous little known or “unknown” corners of the fascinating city, well worth checking up.  Continuing with our exploration of some of these unique places and particularly focused on the south of the Historic Center, my small group of friends and I leave La Ronda Street and district and make a brief visit to the imposing 16th Century Church, Convent and Square of Santo Domingo, another of the capital city relics. The church is another sampler of the unique “Quito School of Art”, with its impressive walls and ceiling paintings, its heavily decorated altars, boasting impressive sculptures of indigenous authors and a feeling of strong religious bonds of the local population of today. The Convent has a magnificent Museum of Religious Art, quaint courtyards with stone fountains and a superb Library, all ran by the Dominican Friars.

Leaving the religious complex we focus on the Square of the same name, whose main icon is the full-sized statue of Marshall Antonio Jose de Sucre; Simon Bolivar`s most loyal and famous main General, a talented battle strategist, who conducted the Battle of Pichincha, which sealed the Independence of Ecuador, at the very foothills of the legendary Pichincha Volcano.  Sucre’s right hand and fingers point to the west, precisely in the direction of the hilly battlegrounds, where 200 years ago, Ecuador became an independent nation.  The area is now filled with multi-colored homes of the constantly expanding city. Towards the opposite side, the colonial Arch of Santo Domingo is another icon, leading to the very old colonial neighborhood of “La Loma Grande” with its pretty balconies and restored homes, keeping the original architectonic style intact. Unlike La Ronda, this neighborhood and its main street, Calle Rocafuerte, is still residential and houses families still living amongst stone courtyards and square-shaped two-story complexes which also host small workshops and businesses.

Now we descend south of the Historic Center’s borders, down Pedro Vicente Maldonado Avenue and pass by the impressive complex of La Recoleta, the seat, since the mid 1950’s, of Ecuador’s Ministry of Defense.  The front building is of classic mid XX Century architecture. It leads the way to the large compound which includes new and modern buildings, where the Ecuadorian Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as other Military entities like the Joint Command have their headquarters. Just a block further down is the old bridge over the Machangara River, a city neighbor that meanders through the southern part of the city and then heads on towards the east. The Municipality has built a “Linear Park” following the winding course of the river’s shores and providing green spaces, sports courts, biking and jogging lanes as well as children playgrounds for the citizens of the area to enjoy.  The city’s southern districts have grown and expanded enormously, accounting today for almost one half of the entire city’s population, and is made predominantly of “working class” neighborhoods, not exempt of signs of prosperity like ample avenues, small and mid-sized businesses, a complete network of public transportation and modern shopping malls.

Now Maldonado Avenue climbs again and leads us to the one century old and recently restored Train Station of Chimbacalle, a landmark of the country’s history, site of many important events and the historic venue which in 1908 sealed the union, through the train tracks, between the Pacific Coast of Ecuador and its bustling commercial port of Guayaquil, the main gateway to the external world, with the capital city, surmounting the gigantic barrier of the Andes mountains. Today, the Station, fully rehabilitated, is not only the starting point for unique train adventures for the national and international tourists, but also a superb Railway Museum, while it houses comfortable waiting rooms for train voyagers; a Train Café and Thematic Souvenirs Train Shop. The legendary steam locomotive number 17, fully painted in red as well as its two or three attached carriages stands in the center of the main patio as a “living museum” invaluable masterpieces of rail engineering and history.

As there are still more jewels to “rediscover” in the area, we rather leave those for our next issue, which we invite you not to miss….

Categories: Ecuador
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