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Destination Ecuador: Quito
Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is situated in Pichincha province, on the lower slopes of the volcano Pichincha, which last erupted in 1666, in a narrow Andean valley at an elevation of 9,350 feet (2,850 metres), just south of the Equator. The oldest of all South American capitals, Quito is notable for its well-preserved old town, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978. One of the most beautiful colonial cities of Latin America is surrounded by spectacular snowcapped volcanoes. The rich mixture of architectural styles and decorative arts of the Quito School of Art, prompted UNESCO to declare the city part of the Cultural Heritage of Mankind in 1979. Quito offers 5* hotels as well as colonials, delicious fresh cuisine, all the comforts of a capital city, plus the warmth and hospitality of the people. Visit museums, convents, churches, art galleries and handicraft shops.
city was the ancient seat of the kingdom of Quitu, the largest unit of
an Indian tribal confederation that left no recorded history. Between
the 10th century and 1487, when it was united with the Inca empire, it
was ruled by the Shyris, sovereigns of the Cara Indians, who are said
to have come “by way of the sea.” Sebastián de Belalcázar, a lieutenant
of the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, occupied the city on Dec.
6, 1534, and declared a municipal government (cabildo). Quito remained
the focal point of national affairs—political, social, and economic—until
the early 20th century, when economic dominance shifted to Guayaquil.
A distinct rivalry between the two cities still exists, with Quito remaining
the nation's political and cultural centre.
Quito preserves much of its colonial atmosphere, with the towers of many churches outlined against the circle of volcanoes that surrounds the Quito Basin and with peaceful squares, fountains, balconied houses, steep narrow streets, iron-grilled doorways, and secluded gardens. Unlike other Latin-American cities, where sprawling yet impoverished suburbs ring the core districts, a large proportion of Quito's poverty-fringe population lives in central city slums.
1552 an art school was established in Quito, the first of its kind in
South America. This marked the foundation of a religious art movement
that flourished throughout the Spanish colonial period, leaving a wealth
of wooden polychrome sculpture and paintings unequaled in the New World.
Many of Quito's churches, cloisters, and old mansions are veritable museums.
Among the most admired of Quiteño churches and convents are La Compañía
(Jesuit), with Baroque columns, ceilings, and massive altars covered with
gold leaf; San Francisco, with its magnificent cloister; Carmen Alto,
home of the native Santa Mariana de Jesús; San Agustín, where Ecuador's
Act of Independence was signed in 1809; Santo Domingo, noted for its handsome
altar and facade; the Sagrario; and the 16th- to 17th-century cathedral,
burial place of the hero of independence, Antonio José de Sucre. It is
estimated that religious buildings and lands occupy one-fourth of the
city space. The gravest threat to colonial-era buildings in the city has
been earthquakes, such as those of 1660, 1797, 1868, and (less severe)
The Central University (government-sponsored) dates from 1586, the National Polytechnic School from 1869, and the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador from 1946 (raised to pontifical status in 1963). The Casa de la Cultura (Cultural Institute) includes museums of art and a library. Also notable are the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (1950), the Anthropology Museum (1925), the Municipal Museum of Art and History (1930), and the cultural museum (1969) of the Central Bank. Gracing Alameda Park is the astronomical observatory (1864), with its five small, elegant white towers.
Long an isolated highland centre, Quito was linked to the coast by the Guayaquil-Quito railway in 1908. The city has an international airport and lies on the Pan-American Highway. One of Ecuador's two major industrial centres (the other being Guayaquil), it produces textiles, pharmaceuticals, light consumer goods, and crafted objects of leather, wood, gold, and silver. The Trans-Ecuadorian Pipeline from the eastern oil fields in Napo province runs through Quito to Esmeraldas; another oil pipeline connects Quito with Guayaquil to the southwest. During the latter part of the 20th century, the city's commercial centre shifted northward with the construction of new banks, retail stores, and corporate offices, but the old town districts remain economically important.
The weekly outdoor Indian markets, or fairs, and small shops selling native crafts are among the characteristic sights of Quito. One of the best panoramic views of the city is from the Virgin of Quito landmark atop the hill called El Panecillo (“The Little Loaf of Bread”).