The cultural centre is located just off the Plaza Grande right next to the president’s palace. The Jesuits originally constructed this building in the 17th Century. In 1767, when Charles III of Spain banished the Jesuit order from the colonies, the buildings became a public university. In the 1790s, the buildings became the headquarters of the Spanish royal troops sent from Lima to repress the early go of independence which ended in the massacre of a number of patriots from Quito on 2 August 1810. The Alberto Mena Caamaño Museum displays the massacre with life-size wax figures. As of November, 2007 the museum hours are Tuesday through Sunday 9am-5pm. It costs $1.50 for regular folks to get in, 75¢ for old folks and the crippled, and 50¢ for kids.
Some hundred metres further up the road from Museo Guayasamín is Capilla del Hombre, a creation by the famous artist. Capilla del Hombre means Chapel of Man and it is dedicated to the people of America and their struggle against conquerors.
In a huge two-story building impressive murals and paintings are displayed. Here you find murals like El condor y toro, Los Mutilados and La Ternura. It is a collection of some of Guayasamín’s masterpieces, and it is absolutely worth a visit. An eternal flame burns in the centre of the ground floor for the cause of human rights.
The project to build Capilla del Hombre begun in 1995, but it was not completed until 2002, three years after Oswald Guayasamín’s death. In the garden you will see The Tree of Life (El Arbol de La Vida) under which the remains of the artist are buried. In the garden there are also some sculptures and a Maya stela from Copán, Honduras.
Capilla del Hombre is open between 10 - 17 on Tuesday - Sunday. The admission was $4 (August 2012). There is a café on the grounds.
Mariscal Antonio José de Sucre is a hero of the Ecuadorian independence. He was a Field Marshal in Simón Bolívar’s liberation army and he was the one leading the troops at the battle of Pichincha 1822, the battle when de Spanish royalists once and for all were defeated in Ecuador, and Ecuador became a part of Gran Colombia (for 8 years before its own independence).
Casa de Sucre in Quito’s Centro Histórico has been the home of Sucre. The colonial building has been beautifully restored and now houses a museum with items that has belonged to Sucre, or just furniture and other objects, like weapons, documents and clothings, from the same era, the beginning of the 19th century.
Admission to the museum was $1 (August 2011). It is open between 9 - 17.30 on Monday - Friday, and between 10 - 17.30 on Saturdays. When I visited there were older pupils from a school doing the guiding. My guide only spoke Spanish, but I understood most of the things he said, and it was a very informative.
The Museo Domenicano de Arte in the monastery of Santo Domingo may be smaller than the Museo Fray Pedro Gocial attached to Iglesia San Francisco, but it is well worth a visit. In some ways I liked it more – perhaps because there were fewer exhibits and it was therefore easier to take them in; perhaps because the leaflet we were given gave us a good explanation in English of a few of the more noted pieces; perhaps because photography is allowed; but probably because we had the opportunity here to see more than just the museum itself.
But let’s start with the museum. We came here first thing in the morning and were the only visitors. The entrance fee of $2 included the brief leaflet, in Spanish and English, mentioned above. We were offered a guide but declined as we wanted to look round at our own pace. The guy who sold us the ticket told us we were allowed to take photos, without flash naturally, and walked with us to the room off the cloister where the treasures are displayed, which he unlocked for us. We spent some time in the short series of rooms. Among the treasures on display are:
~ a huge hymn book, dating from 1681 and made from parchment, leather and wood
~ an 18th century painting of the Virgin of the Rosary, by an anonymous artist of the Cuzco school
~ various wooden statues of saints from the 17th and 18th centuries, very realistic on their portrayal
When we had finished looking around here, we took some time to enjoy the peaceful cloister where more paintings were displayed, some of them looking decided more modern but not described in our leaflet. As we went to leave the same guy who had sold us the tickets asked if we would like to see the original monastery refectory. We said that we would, so he locked up the museum (there were still no other visitors) and took us to the far corner of the cloister where he unlocked a door that led through the next cloister. This is currently part of the school for boys run by the monks, but he explained that the building works that we could see going on were being carried out to turn another part of the monastery into the school and open this part up to the public, thus extending the museum. He then opened another door and we were in the refectory (photo four). This was really worth seeing – a large room beautifully decorated, with seating along the edges. Each of the 54 seats has a painting of one of the Dominican martyrs, along with the cause of their demise – some stabbed, some stoned, one shot by arrows and so on. As a contrast to these rather grizzly images, the ceiling has beautiful paintings depicting the life of St Catherine, from her birth at one end to old age at the other. Our guide pointed out that some had been restored and were consequently much richer in colour. The room is apparently still in use – hired out by the monks for special events, and used by themselves on feast days.
Back in the cloister I asked our guide about the more modern paintings we had seen, and one in particular that had intrigued me. He explained that it had been painted in 1933 by a Dominican monk and artist, and showed the establishment, in Guayaquil, of Ecuador’s first trade union – see photo five. You can see people practicing their various trades and crafts, gathered around Jesus in his guise as a carpenter, with his father Joseph, also of course a carpenter, behind him. On the right a Dominican brother leads more workers to join the union, and in the background is the busy port of the city, a hive of industry and activity.
Next tip: a look at Colonial Quito at night
This museum of colonial religious art is located in the convent attached to the church of San Francisco, and even if you think you aren’t interested in that type of art is still worth visiting, as it gives you access to the lovely and peaceful convent cloisters and to the choir loft of the church. The monastery is the oldest and largest in the country, taking up two city blocks. It was founded in 1546 but took 70 years to build.
The art works here include paintings, altar pieces and processional statues, displayed very nicely along the outer and inner cloisters. No photos are allowed in the inner one but you can take any pictures you want in the outer one, both of the works on display and the cloister itself. In one corner we found some pretty birds – finches, lovebirds etc. I’m not a fan of keeping pet birds but at least these weren’t caged (though I assume their wings had been clipped to keep them here) and the lovebirds in particular were so sweet that we found them an added attraction to the museum (see photo three).
But the highlight for me was a series of processional statues depicting the Passion on display in the inner cloister. These are typical of the Quito school in their vivid, if not gory, portrayal of the sufferings of Christ and the other saints. It is generally said that this goriness is a reference to the suffering that the indigenous people had undergone at the hands of their Spanish conquerors. Perhaps they found those who had suffered for this faith that had been imposed on them, to be the element of it with which they themselves could most easily identify? Whatever the explanation, these are powerful works whether or not you share the beliefs that inspired them.
The altarpiece in photo two depicts Saint Barbara and is by an anonymous artist of the 17th century. This is in the outer cloister, which was why I was able to take the photo, and is typical of the works on display there. When you have finished looking at the art, and maybe sat a while in the peaceful cloister, you can climb a flight of stone stairs to the left of the museum entrance which lead you to the choir loft of the church. From here you have an excellent view of the church (again no photos allowed). The loft itself is also worth seeing, for the intricately carved choir stalls and the dramatic crucifix by Manuel Chile Caspicara, which dates back to 1650-70. It is said that Caspicara tied a model to a cross to examine how best to represent Christ's facial and body expressions as realistically as possible.
Entry to the museum and choir loft cost us $2 (October 2012). I have read that guided tours are compulsory but we weren’t offered one – maybe it depends on the season when you visit (it was very quiet when we were here) or maybe that is no longer the case. We were given a leaflet with some information in English. Signs by the art works are in Spanish but you can easily make out facts such as artist and date of course. The museum is open Monday - Saturday from 09.00 to 18.00 and Sunday from 09.00 to 13.00. Highly recommended!
Next tip: the perfect spot to rest after your visit to the museum, Café Tianguez
Museo Fundación Guayasamín is housed in the former home of the artist Oswaldo Guayasamín (1919-1999), who probably is Ecuador’s most famous artist. Besides paintings by Guayasamín his other collections are shown as well. In one building you can see his collection of pre-Colombian pottery. There are around 1500 pieces of bowls, fertility figurines, burial masks and more on display, and they are arranged by theme. In another building you can see Guayasamín’s collection of colonial religious art.
There is a gift-shop where you can by prints by Guayasamín and another one where you can by jewellery. There is also a café.
The museum is open between 10 - 17 on Monday - Friday. Admission was $4 (August 2011).
Unfortunately you are not allowed to take photos in the museum, so I took a photo of the brochure to get a picture for this tip.
After visiting Museo Fundación Guayasamín you should walk a few hundred metres further up along the road to visit Capilla del Hombre, where you will see many more of Guayasamín’s works.
The church and monastery of San Francisco is both the oldest and largest colonial building in Quito. The complex takes up two blocks and construction of the church and convent was begun in 1534, just a few weeks after the foundation of Quito. It was not completed until 70 years later. Over the years much has been destroyed by earthquakes and it has been rebuilt, but there are some original features left too.
It is free to visit the church which is open between 8-12 and 15-18 every day. In the monastery next door is the Museo Franciscano (Museo Fray Pedro Gocial) with a large and fine collection of religious art; paintings, sculptures and furniture, from the colonial era. The large courtyard is lovely. Admission to the museum was $2 (June 2011) and it is open between 9-17.30 on Monday-Saturday and between 9-12 on Sundays.
Museo de la Ciudad, the City Museum, is situated in the old Hospital San Juan de Dios, which was built already in 1563. It was used as a hospital until 1973 and has then been restored.
The exhibitions in the museum are about the history of Quito and how people have lived in the area. It starts with Quito’s early history and goes on to colonial time and then independence, up to modern time. There are artefacts, maps, costumes, photos and models on display.
There is a nice courtyard and a café in the museum. There are also temporary exhibitions.
Admission was $3 (June 2011)
The museum is open between 9.30 - 17.30, Tuesday - Sunday.
The Museo Manuela Sáenz is not in many guidebooks, so it is often overlooked which is a shame as it is a very interesting museum. The museum is situated in a colonial building in San Marco in Centro Histórico. It is a museum over Manuela Sáenz, who participated in the liberation struggle from Spain and who was the mistress of Simón Bolívar. In the museum there are paintings and personal items, among other things love letters. There are also exhibitions with religious art, old coins and weapons.
I got a good guided tour around the museum and it was partly in Spanish and partly in English. And as I didn’t know anything about Manuela Sáenz before it was very interesting .
Admission was $3 (June 2011).
Manuela Sáenz was born in Quito in 1797. She married a wealthy Englishman in an arranged marriage and she and her husband moved to Lima in Peru 1819. Lima was at that time the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru. In Lima Manuela hosted parties for Limas upper class, including many military officers and political leaders. There were talks about the ongoing revolution and Manuela got involved. In 1822 she left her husband and returned to Quito where she met Simón Bolívar and they fell in love. They started an affair that lasted for eight years, until Bolívar died.
Manuela Sáenz was not only the mistress of Simón Bolívar but she took an active role in the liberation struggle, by participating in several battles and planning. When in Bogotá, in 1828, Manuela helped in preventing a murder attempt of Simón Bolívar. After that Simón Bolívar called her the liberator of the liberator. After Simón Bolívar died Manuela Sáenz was sent into exile. After a short time in Jamaica she ended up living the rest of her life in the small town Paita along the northern Peruvian coast. There she got her income from selling candy and tobacco, and from writing and translating letters for sailors. She died in 1856 during a diphtheria epidemic, so all her possessions were burnt and she was buried in a mass grave.
Museo Nacional del Banco Central is situated in a large round building in the south end of Mariscal, in Parque Arbolito. It is a great museum displaying many masterpieces of Ecuadorian pre-Colombian pottery and paintings from different periods. It is absolutely worth a visit. I liked the archaeological exhibition best where artefacts from different pre-Colombian cultures from all over the country is displayed. Then there is a Gold Room with many magnificent gold objects from the time before colonisation. Upstairs there are several Art Rooms displaying art from the colonial period up to modern times.
There are also temporary exhibitions at the museum, and when I visited there was an exhibition about traditions and festivals in the Andean region.
Admission was free when I visited.
The museum is open between 9 - 17 on Tuesday - Friday, and between 10 - 16 on Saturday and Sunday.
In the middle of Parque La Alameda is a beautiful old building, light yellow in colour with arched windows and doors. It is Quito’s Astronomical Observatory. It was inaugurated in 1864 and was the first astronomical observatory established in South America.
There is a museum in the building which is open daily between 9-12 and 14.30-17.30. In the exhibitions there are antique astronomical tools, photos and books. I didn’t visit the museum, but maybe on my next visit to Quito.
On very clear nights it is also possible to arrange for a visit to look at the stars.
Centro Cultural Metropolitano is a stunning building and one of the first to be renovated in Quito’s Old Town. Many would say it was the impetus for the restoration of the entire city center. The building has a colorful history dating back to the 1500s and the current incarnation is as the city’s cultural center, generally housing the most impressive visiting collections. When we were there they had a Warhol exhibit which was only a dollar to see.
The National Museum was founded by the Central Bank of Ecuador in order to literally protect the country's historical identity. The main idea was Ecuador could not progress very well if it didn't know its cultural identity. If the central bank hadn't done this, you just know all the metal work, colonial coins, and other solid gold pieces now on exhibit here would have either been turned into gold ingots for the monetary reserve or sold on the black market. They have several rooms broken down by time period. The archeology room shows the oldest artifacts dating as far back as 12000 B.C. The gold room shows all manner of masks, symbols of power and many examples of their ability to work with solid gold. The art and artifacts in the Colonial Period shows native culture giving way to Spanish culture. Sergio, Christina, and I visited here on a Sunday afternoon.
It is free to Ecuadorians on Sundays and it only cost me $2 to get in. It is open Tuesday to Friday from 9 am to 5pm; Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays from 10 am to 4pm. They are closed only on Good Friday, 25 December, and 1 January.
The Museo del Banco Central is Ecuador’s premier museum and its extensive collection of Ecuadorian art from pre-Hispanic to the present should not be missed. But its call to fame is the entertaining Sala de Archeologia that transports the visitor back in time as they wander a maze from one century to the next through Ecuador’s past. Everyone's favorite may be the shrunken heads but there’s lots to keep even the casual history buff for a couple hours. It’s $2 to get in but you could spend a full day here easily and should allow at least two hours to properly enjoy. This is another no camera museum and hence the scanned ticket.
Casa-Museo Maria Augusta Urrutia offers a rare and quite fascinating glimpse into a Quito of another era with an extensive collection of period furniture and interesting household appliances. The intriguing philanthropist Maria Augusta Urratia's love of art pays dividends with her prominent compilation on display. The house itself is a perfect example of 19th century aristocracy and one can’t help but feel envious of the open courtyards and rambling assortment of rooms as you wander around. It cost $2.50 but that includes an English speaking guide and is money well spent. My only gripe was you were not allowed to take photos so these are scanned postcards.