Quito, capital of Ecuador, is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Latin America. Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, this city was founded in 1534 by the Spaniard Sebastián de Benalcazar. There are several theories regarding the origin of its name, the most accepted relates that it comes from the languages tsa’fiki and cha’fiki: “qui” (de quitsa) means means half, and “to” or “tu” means land. Thus, the word “Quito,” or “Quitu,” is translated as: “Earth in the middle of the World”.
This applies to a very specific reason: Quito is only about 20 km away from the equator. The winter and summer equinoxes have a special connotation and integral function in and around the city.
The pre-Incan name of the city coincides with a series of astronomical phenomena visible from the area and its the nearby valleys, creating a zone of special interest for astronomy. The impact of these phenomena is so deep and strong that there are several archaeological remains near Quito, where the observation of events associated with the sun, moon, and stars have mathematical precision.
All these references date from at least 700 or 800 years before the arrival of the Incas. In fact, according to historical sources, the civilization moved their empire towards the north on purpose, towards the exact point where the sun did not have shade.
One of Quito’s unique characteristics is not only its geographical position along the equator, but also its altitude. At 2,800 meters above sea level, this city is guarded by active volcanoes such as Pichincha, Cotopaxi, and Cayambe. It is a real jewel embedded in the Andes Mountain Range. These form a ring of no less than 14 volcanoes visible from the city on a clear day.
The history of this city is wonderful. Pre-Hispanic cultures with surprising wisdom inhabited these lands, settling the “Kingdom of Quito.” In fact, it is now possible to visit in the surrounding site’s museums that exhibit remains of buildings and archaeological pieces—testimonies of the level of social organization that ancient civilizations like the Quitus, Caras, etc. developed. In this territory, and on sacred sites, the Spaniards founded the city of San Francisco de Quito.
The Spanish conquistadores took advantage of native construction and astronomical knowledge to create unique architecture as they took over the land of Quito. A symbiosis of Andean and European techniques resulted in what has been called baroque art, which was embodied in the construction of buildings that are part of the Historic Center of Quito, declared by UNESCO in 1978 as Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The Spanish conquest marked the history of the city of Quito in many ways. In addition to architecture, the Escuela de Arte Quiteña (Quito Art School) was here born, forming artisans who elaborated religious art that astonished the world. Paintings, sculptures, altarpieces, among other works, can be seen in churches, convents, and museums that exhibit the splendor of an era of worship of the Catholic religion (XVI, XVII and XVIII centuries). Perhaps this is the only city in the world that has immense, gold-leaf covered altars, which can be visited and admired. The majority of artistic objects were made by anonymous colonial authors. Some have been identified, however, as in the inspiring case of Caspicara: an Indian who used techniques and materials that are still the subject of research.
Quito is also an eminently political city. Here was the first cry of Spanish independence. In 1809, indigenous and mestizo leaders (the latter a mixture of indigenous and Spanish blood) fought to achieve independence from the Spanish colony. Years of struggle finally led to the constitution of the Republic of Ecuador in 1830. This struggle was taken as an example by other nations and made Quito known as the “Luz de América.”
With the passage of time, the pace of the economy made Quito a true metropolis. It currently has a population of approximately 2 million inhabitants, with three areas perfectly marked: the north, the modern area; the center, the largest colonial hub of America; and the south, where most of the population lives and the industrial zone is located.
This city is the political center of Ecuador, housing all the public institutions of the national government. It is the soul of Ecuadorian bureaucracy and the meeting point of the country’s accredited international organizations .
In addition to learning the pre-Hispanic, colonial, and republican history, being in Quito allows visitors to enter a modern city with all the novelties and comforts of the 21st century. Shopping malls, which offer the most famous brands in the world, have become places of meeting and leisure. It’s also possible to enjoy a variety of local and international, while preparing to discover a city with a nightlife that will surprise. The city has a great supply of hotels that allow you to tailor-plan your trip. The Mercure Alameda Hotel Quito comes especially recommended. Located in the north central area of the city, it gives you the possibility to mobilize anywhere, in the shortest time, and with the greatest security. The capital and beloved city of the Ecuadorians is a gem to explore. You will love diving through its layers of history, art, culture, and fun!