Colonial Quito, Quito
When I visited Quito I passed Iglesia San Agustin every day as it was situated only one block from where I was staying., but I only went inside once, for a short visit. It is a church that dates back to the 16th century, but after an earthquake much of it was rebuilt in 1880. The bell tower is 37m tall and on the top stands a statue of St Augustine.
I should definitely come back next time I go to Quito to visit the adjacent monastery. That is where Ecuador’s declaration of independence was signed on August 10 1809, and many of the heroes of the battle of independence are buried in the crypt. There is also a collection of religious art. The monastery was completed in 1627. From one of the windows at El Cafeto there is a good view over the courtyard.
La Ronda is a narrow lane in Centro Histórico, lined by old colonial buildings from the 16th century. It is a picturesque place. On some houses you can read signs about artists and writers who once lived here.
La Ronda used to be a dangerous area, but it has now been restored and security has increased. It is a street for pedestrians only. Along the street there are restaurants, bars, art galleries and small shops. When I visited it was quiet, but at night, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, La Ronda gets lively with lots of people visiting the bars and restaurants. At many places live music is then played.
Museo de Arte Colonial is situated in a restored building from the 17th century. It is said that the museum has got the best collection of colonial art in Quito, or even in whole Ecuador. In the exhibitions there are furniture, paintings and sculptures, many made by artists of the Quito school, artists like Miguel de Santiago, Caspicara (Manuel Chili) and Bernardo de Legarda.
It is not allowed to take photos inside the museum and you must leave your camera and bag in a locker by the reception. The museum is open between 9 - 13 and 14 - 16 on Tuesday - Friday, and between 10 - 14 on Saturdays. Admission was $2 (June 2011).
Plaza Grande is the main square in Centro Histórico. It is a lovely square with trees and tall palm trees, and plenty of benches to sit on to rest or watch people. It is surrounded by historic buildings, like the Archbishop Palace, Palacio del Gobierno and the Cathedral. On the eastern side of the square there are modern buildings, the municipality building and the tourist office. In the middle of the square there is a high pillar with a statue on top the Independence Monument. Plaza Grande is officially called Plaza de la Independencia.
The Plaza is built on the side of a hill and offers good views of Quito. This was built on the site of an old Inca Temple, and now there are many cafes surrounding the square. One of the most important sites is the San Francisco Monastery which you can enter and see golden angels, magnificent artwork and many images of the sun, as the Spanish tried to relate the sun to the Christian faith to convert the locals. The wooden furniture is also interesting as there are pearls covering the wood.
The large white building on the north-western side of Plaza Grande is Palacio del Gobierno (the Presidential Palace). It has a long balcony with arches and columns. The ironwork on the balcony originally comes from a palace in Paris, and was bought shortly after the French Revolution. On top of the building there is a large Ecuadorian flag. Originally there was a palace built on this site in 1650, which functioned as the governor’s office. However, it was burnet down in 1920, but it was immediately rebuilt.
Since 2007 the palace is open for visitors and there are several guided tours daily, mainly in Spanish, but also in English. When the government is not in session, the palace is closed. There is a mural by the stairway made by the famous Ecadorian artist Guayasamin. It shows the decent of Francisco de Orellana to the Amazon. When I visited Quito last year I didn’t go on the guided tour, but when I go back later this year I hope to do that.
At 11 o’clock on Mondays there is the changing of guards in front of the palace.
On the south-eastern side of Plaza Santo Domingo stands the 17th century church Iglesia Santo Domingo. It is a white washed church with an onated stone façade and one clock tower. Construction of the church begun in 1581 but it was not finished until 1650. Much of de interior dates from the 19th century. In the front there is a gothic style altar and on the walls there are several painting from the Quito school. The masterpiece of the church is considered to be an ornated side chapel in baroque style with a statue of the Virgen del Rosario.
The church is open between 7-12 and 15-18.
Around 15m to the left of the entrance to the church is the Museo Arte Fray Pedro Bedon, a museum with a collection of religious art from the 16th and 17th century.
Teatro Sucre is a large beautiful building standing on the southwest side of Plaza del Teatro. It was constructed in 1878 and has a white façade with arches, columns and a balcony. On the fries above the balcony there are figures of Greek muses. The theatre opened up again in 2004 after some years of restoration. Teatro Sucre is the Ecuadorian National Theatre and here some of the best plays, concerts and dance performances in the country are held.
On the second floor there is a restaurant called Theatrum. I never went there, but maybe I will go there next time I visit Quito.
Construction of La Merced started in 1701 and the church was inaugurated in 1747. There had been an earlier church at the same site, but it was destroyed in an earthquake in 1660. Beside La Merced there is a small square from which you will get a nice view of the whitewashed church. The tower, with Moorish influences in the architecture, is 47 metres high and it was the tallest in colonial Quito. The dome is tiled and around the entrance there are carved stone pillars.
Inside the church is painted in white and pink, and there are many golden side chapels and paintings in large gold frames.
La Merced is open between 7-12 and 14-17 on Monday -Saturday and between 13-17 on Sundays.
The whitewashed Quito Cathedral is situated on the southwest side of Plaza Grande. First I thought the cathedral was closed, but then I found out there is an entrance from Venezuela, and there you pay an admission of $1.50 (June 2011).
Quito Cathedral was built already in 1563, but has been restored a few times after being damaged by earthquakes. Inside you will find several paintings made by artists of the old Quito School. An interesting painting is the Last Supper where Christ and the Disciples have got cuy, humitas an chicha on the table in front of them. First I couldn’t find the Last Supper, but it is situated high up on the wall on the right side of the altar. In the cathedral you will also find the tomb of Mariscal Sucre, one of Ecuador’s heroes of independence. The Ecuadorian president Gabriel García Moreno died 1875 in the cathedral after he had been attacked with a machete outside the cathedral. Behind the altar there is a plaque indicating the place where he died.
When I visited there was a children choir practising and that was very nice listening to when I walked around in the church.
The cathedral is open for visits on Mondays - Fridays between 9.30 - 16.00 and on Saturdays between 10.00 - 16.00.
The Archbishop’s Palace is one of the oldest buildings in Quito, but it has been rebuilt and restored several times. It is a two-story building with whitewashed walls and balconies. It is built in a neoclassical style and has a colonnaded passage facing Plaza Grande and several inner courtyards.
Inside the Archbishop’s Palace, around one of the courtyards, you will find many restaurants, serving both fast food and more expensive food. There are also souvenir shops and Internet places in the building.
On the other corner of the crossing of Garcia Moreno and Sucre, there is the Museo Numismatico (museum of the history of the coins).
The building is the Central Bank of Ecuador.
I am not sure if it is still used as a bank, as we had no time to enter this building.
But it is a great building, certainly worth to stop and to admire the great architecture.
San Agustín is another of Quito’s Baroque Colonial churches, but like La Compañía it has an elaborate façade, replete with intricate carvings that are mirrored by a rich and decorative interior. Tucked into one of the streets leading from the bus terminal to the Plaza Grande, this church is not likely to be on your immediate itinerary, but you are likely to pass it on the way up the hill. On Sundays, the entrance to the church is a popular spot for street vendors to sell religious images, rosaries, candles and other religious paraphernalia, which adds to the ambiance of the area. It marks part of the “trilogy” of orders in the city: after San Francisco and Santo Domingo, San Agustín helps to round out the representation in the city of the three big monastic orders (Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustines). Nevertheless, you shouldn’t expect to see any monks hanging around this church, as it appears to have become overcome by the touristy feeling of the surrounding streets.
El Convento La Merced is another of Quito’s architectural prizes, although it is a bit outside of the main Plaza Grande strip. Located at Chile and Sebastian de Benalcazar (some say Imbambura?), this massive church and convent features a mixture of Baroque and Moorish influences, the favoured styles of the builders of the original Colonial city. It is a massive structure, covering 29000 square metres, although a large part of that is devoted to the convent and not the church. The large cupola is also remarkable, although it is likely the Baroque campanile that will draw your attention. I didn’t have the opportunity to visit the interior of the church, but the pictures I have seen show a beautiful, gilded Baroque altar and interior, with numerous statues by reputed religious artists. The Church was originally constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the majority of the Colonial religious institutions were erected in the city. It dominates the small streets of this part of the colonial town, making it seem almost like an impossibly large structure among the otherwise low residential and commercial buildings.
La Ronda is a rehabilitated section of Quito’s old city that is part of the municipality’s drive to turn Quito into a tourist destination to rival other Latin American metropolises. The area is a short, 15 minute walk from Plaza Grande and, although there are no spectacular architectural gems here, it does offer visitors with a cleaned-up and slightly yuppy version of the Colonial Centre. The white-washed houses in Colonial style are all prim and proper, the vast majority of them housing boutiques, restaurants and lounges designed to pry a few extra dollars from tourists with a taste for a unique cultural experience. There are also plenty of explanations as to how this part of the city played an important role in the development of Ecuadorian music, which is interesting but a bit mystifying for anyone who doesn’t know about the music scene here to begin with. An interesting point to note is that the original Panama hat store is in La Ronda. Panama hats are actually made in Ecuador, and you can find original and high-quality ones for sale on La Ronda (but don’t expect them to be cheap!).