Unlike many other Latin American countries, where the Evangelical movement is not only making huge headways, but also becoming a political and social force, in Ecuador the Catholic church is still a strong, popular and politically power institution. There are many, many examples of just how deeply the Catholic church is rooted in Ecuadorian society, one of which is the large presence of nuns and monks, a section of the church that is now almost inexistent in Spain, France and other traditionally Catholic states in Europe. The headquarters of the Catholic Radio station, right across from a huge Seminary, are another indication of the reach of this institution. This may be changing, however, as the government works to pass a new telecommunications law that would, in some ways, deprive media outside of government control of the freedom they once enjoyed.
Obviously, anyone who wants to get great views of Quito and the valley will have to go to the TeleferiQo and get shots from Pichincha. One other way to see a bit of undiscovered Quito and get closer shots of the metropolis is to walk up to TeleferiQo along La Gasca. I started at El Ejido, walked up to América, then north to La Gasca and west along La Gasca until there were signs pointing to the TeleferiQo. In all, it takes about 80 or 90 minutes, and it is not a light walk around the park. In particular, the hike (it is quite strenuous) is very much at a sharp incline as you get to the end of La Gasca, and there are some tricky turns along the way. Still, you get great views of parts of the city that have developed over the last century, and a quieter, more tranquil peak into the everyday lives of Quiteños.
I'm not exactly sure of the story behind this feature of Quito's colonial architecture, but it does look like this was once the entrance to the colonial city. Indeed, it is located at one of the edge of the colonial core of the capital, right beside Iglesia del Carmen Alto, and is not really in the tourist circuit. Nevertheless, it is an interesting addition to the city's landscape, and the burnt squash colour adds another tone to the city's palate.
Avenida 24 de Mayo is, easily, not part of the general tourist scene in Quito, and the only reason that I ended up here is because I decided to wander about on my last free day in the city. This large thoroughfare is, in a way, the end of the Colonial section of the centre and there are many stores and hang-outs along the street that are of a seedier nature. Nevertheless, the street offers spectacular views of the city, the mountains and el Panecillo, and it's worth a visit if you are looking for great photo opportunities. There are a number of monuments and churches along the street, including one called Iglesia del Robo (I have no idea if that's its official name, or if it's just a nickname) with an interesting dome.
In a city that is overflowing with examples of Spanish colonial architecture, Baroque churches with Moorish highlights, and quaint, Andalusian-style dwellings, it is the government buildings and structures that must fill the void of neo-Renaissance and neo-Classical buildings. Indeed, while the Presidential Palance (see Palacio del Carondelet) is a beautiful example of the blending of Colonial styles and neo-Classical patterns, the Vice-Presidential offices or palace on Calle Angosta has an incredible neo-Classical façade that catches the eye. The dark grey stone contrasts perfectly with the bright colours of the colonial houses, projecting a sombre and serious note of this important building. You cannot, unfortunately, go into the building (as that would be a security threat), but you are allowed to take pictures of it.
Iglesia del Carmen, on Olmedo street as you approach Venezuela, is not a popular stop on the tourist trail. In fact, I didn't come here on purpose, I just passed the church on my way from the Western part of the centre (where the market is) towards the more touristy central zone. This church caught my attention because of its elaborate Baroque designs and wooden doors, both of which seemed to be unsung beauties in a city that abounds in examples of Spanish Baroque.
I took pictures of this convent because it was exemplary of the austere side of Colonial Spanish architecture during the Baroque period, and also because it seemed to be one of the few Colonial structures in the old city that wasn't protected from taggers. I can't seem to place it on a map or in terms of the various tourist sites advertised for the city, and I'm starting to wonder if it might not be the Monastery attached to La Merced. Nevertheless, it's an interesting subject for pictures, and shows the boundaries between the "tourist" area of the historic core and the areas that have been left for the inhabitants of the city.
I found this small attraction to be rather amusing, given that, during the period 2000-2007, Ecuador went through four or five president. Presidents' Square (I think that's what its official name is) is a small crossroads that has busts of various famous Presidents. It is a couple of blocks north of the Puerta de la Circasiana, on Amazonas, and is rather low-key. The busts are really just part of the landscape in this part of the commercial and financial heart of the city, but they are nonetheless deserving of a visit, if only for the humour of the choice of subjects.
La Plaza de San Francisco is, obviously, dominated by the Monasterio de San Francisco, but it is still an interesting part of the city in its own right. In particular, the number of tourists who come to the Plaza to see the Church attracts a host of entrepreneurs and children. There is a pretty fountain in the centre of the raised plaza, which provides ample opportunity for pictures. It would be good practice not to flash valuables or electronics too openly here, as the number of tourists is undoubtedly attractive for pickpockets as well.
Ecuador’s original Central Bank building, now a museum, is a wonderful neo-Renaissance structure that complements perfectly the architectural heritage of the Plaza Grande. Its current Central Bank building, on the other hand, is a grimy and ugly reminder of the country’s repeated currency and financial difficulties of the 1970s and 1980s. Located on Guayaquil, just across from the southern tip of the Alameda, this large, hideously sixties building dominates the view west from the Simon Bolivar monument towards the mountains. It looks like something that was bombed out by the NATO aggression against Serbia in 1999, a hulking reminder of the horrors passed off on developing countries during one of the oil booms (probably) prior to the knowledge of just how dangerous it could be to spend all of your oil earnings at once. Today, the Central Bank is not all that important as it once was, in part because Ecuador dollarized its Sucre in 2000, and also because the country has, thanks to oil prices and better economic management, avoided debt crises in recent years.
San Blas is a district of the capital that is just to the south-east of the historic centre of Quito. It is here that you will find the Teatro Nacional Sucre, as well as the Iglesia y Plaza de San Blas. I rather liked this spot and the typical, whitewashed church because of the great views that you can get from here over the city and out towards the mountains that surround it. The church itself is not all that special, although it has been much better maintained than many of the other churches outside of the core of the Colonial city. Still, what makes this place so quaint and cute are the steps that lead up from Guayaquil, giving this part of a rather polluted thoroughfare the aura of a sleepy Spanish town.
The main draw of the Plaza de Santo Domingo is, undoubtedly, the Iglesia y Convento de Santo Domingo, but the square does have a bit of charm in and of itself. Apart from the indigenous women in traditional garb selling trinkets and souvenirs, the Plaza offers visitors with spectacular views of the skyline and surrounding mountains, while the architecture of the buildings provides you with a view to how somewhat modern (let’s say 19th century) development was blended into the Colonial sections of the city.
El Monasterio de Santa Clara was most interesting for me because it, unlike so many monasteries in Europe, is apparently still inhabited by sisters of an order. I saw some of them in the streets outside the Monastery while I was snapping pictures, which helps to provide at least a bit of context to sightseeing. The Church attached to the Monastery is most noticeable for its large dome, which is not quite as round as cupolas on other religious sites in the city. Indeed, this is sort of a rounded square, which is an interesting addition to the usual white-washed Baroque that is so characteristic of the colonial centre. The crowded streets make snapshots a bit difficult, and the fact that this is not the best area of Quito also seems to detract from the general pleasure of visiting the site. Unfortunately, the authorities have not been able to keep people from urinating or defecating in the general area of the Church (and its surroundings), so try to watch where you walk and focus mainly on the architecture of the Church, rather than its surroundings, when you come to admire it.
The Iglesia de Carmen Alto marks, in a way, the edge of the Colonial tourist zone, at the southern edge of Venezuela. It is a quiet church that doesn’t receive nearly the same number of visitors as the Cathedral or San Francisco, but it is nevertheless quite interesting given its typically colonial façade. The small courtyard makes pictures a bit difficult and rather cramped, but this church is nonetheless worthy of a few snapshots, especially if you like colonial Baroque churches, which seem to be the specialty of Quito. I wasn’t able to enter the church to see its interior, but I imagine it to be packed with artwork, like most other Colonial churches in the city.
This monument, to the unknown hero of Latin American independence, is located on the southern fringe of Quito's old town. At the top of Avenida 24 de Mayo, with spectacular views of both the mountains on the outside of the city and the lower sections built much more recently, this column with bird (to be honest, I'm not sure what kind of bird) commemorates all those who died protecting the hard-won independece of Ecuador and the Latin American states. It was likely erected in 1922 (date on the column), the centenary of the year in which Gran Colombia definitively won its independence from Spain. It's a bit of a shame that this monument is so far from the main tourist attractions, as the graffiti suggests that it doesn't benefit from quite the same level of care and protection as other monuments in the city. Nevertheless, it is an interesting one to photograph, not least because of the perspectives offered by the slope of the street.