Updated on June 15, 2010
Ciudad Vieja de Quito
Now that I’m somewhat settled into my host family and house, I have been checking out Colonial Quito. The past two days have been spent wandering through many museums, churches and stores throughout Quito’s main historic district. Although I have now experienced a fair amount of Colonial Quito, this has only stimulated my interest more. (Maybe part of this is the knowledge that I should try to like the city as I’ll be in it ’till May.)
Ciudad Vieja is easy to get to by either Trole or Ecovia. (I’m sure the Metrobus is just as easy, but I have not yet tried using this line.) At first glance, Colonial Quito is very busy, somewhat touristy but also not entirely colonial. The main plaza of Colonial Quito is Plaza Granda (a.k.a. Plaza Inpendencia because whenever the population really dislikes whatever the president is doing, they come here to protest and sometimes kick him out of office), which holds two of Quito’s most important buildings. The first is El Palacio, where the President works, and the other is Catedral Metropolitana de Quito, one of Quito’s most historic catedrales.
If you go to El Palacio on a day when the President is not working in the building, probably try for Saturday, you may be able to get a tour. The tour is free, but you are required to present some sort of identification. A passport would work wonders or a CENSO, Ecuadorian ID card, would be just as good, but you might be able to get in with just your U.S. drivers’ license. However, you cannot enter without any identification. Inside, they take a complimentary picture of you to commemorate the day and then bring the tour through the courtyards and most important rooms of El Palacio. Halfway up the stairs to the second story is an elaborate mural depicting the conquer of the indigenous Ecuadorians and there are other indigenous artifacts throughout the second story. The tour exhibits many historical artifacts, the main rooms of el palacio and even the President’s golden alter. If you come on a day when they are giving tours, this is one of the most interesting things you could see in Quito.
Catedral Metropolitana de Quito is also worth the visit. It houses not only many of the robes worn by Quito’s bishops, but also the tomb of Sucre, the liberator of Ecuador. There are tours available as well. These focus not only on the artifacts held within the building and the history of the building but also the special art throughout. Catedral Metropolitana de Quito is fairly unique in that is houses many paintings which use syncretism. These works show popular Christian themes, such as the birth of Christ, with a mixture of white Europeans and indigenous ecuadorians, and sometimes common andean animals. These paintings were used to connect the ideas of the catholic church to the everyday lives of the ecuadorians during forced conversion.
There are more than 20 churches in Colonial Quito, so sometimes it is difficult to decide which to visit and which to leave for a later date. The places I definitely recommend are el palacio, Catedral Metropolitana de Quito and a handful of others. La Compania de Jesus is by far one of the most beautiful and ornate churches in all os Quito. In fact, many Ecuadorians will tell you it is their absolute favorite. The entire inside of the church is gilded-an absolutely amazing sight. La Basilica is also worth seeing. It is the largest and tallest cathedral in Quito, so very easy to find. If you begin from Plaza Grande, to go Venezuela street and walk back north a few blocks and it will be easy to find as the Basilica towers over the surrounding buildings. It is highly suggested to walk up to the very top of La Basilica and also not to miss a step along the way (although you could take an elevator). A legend surrounding La Basilica says that it was built upon a sacred indigenous site and because of this, if you miss a step on the way up or down the towers of La Basilica bad things will befall you. Or at least this is what my taxi driver told me the night before I went.
I have yet to visit many museums in Colonial Quito, but a few have been recommended to me many times. Casa de Sucre, on streets Venezuela and Sucre, is one of the most popular recommendations as well as Museo de la Ciudad, on Garcia Moreno and Morales. There will be another post on Quito’s museums soon.
The Museo de Banco Central is worth seeing if you are interested in the history of money. This museum next to La Compania de Jesus shows some of the earliest money used in Latin America and then the history of Ecuadorian money. It moves through the periods where each city coined their own money to exhibit printing presses and then eventually it descries the period where Ecuador changed over to the American dollar. Quite interesting.
Of course, there are many places to eat and shop throughout Colonial Quito. A line of stores are beneath El Palacio where one can buy anything from horsehair paintings to shoes and wall hangings. Across Plaza Grande from El Catedral Metropolitana de Quito is a large shopping center with tourist information and floors of places to eat. Inside the court yard, the restaurants get more expensive as you go up floors. Also, if you wander up and down the streets running to and from Plaza Grande, it is lined with shops and restaurants. One of the most fun streets to walk through is Chile as it is a pedestrian street (and cars have the right-away in Ecuador, so this can be a real concern). Another favorite street is La Ronda, just off of Plaza San?Francisco. This was where the spaniards?originally?settled in Quito and the street has recently been restored to its former glory. It now houses a?myriad?of restaurants and shops. La Ronda is a safe and beautiful place to walk during nighttime, as well.
If you are looking for a beautiful view of the old town at night, the restaurants in the Itchimbia neighborhood offer a great selection. One of my favorites is Cafe Mosaico, on Manuel Samaniego and Antepara, close to Valpariasio. This Cafe offers an excellent view of the city as well as a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere.
Colonial Quito is one of the most interesting and historical places in the city. It is also the?spatially the largest Colonial center in South America. The area has so much to do that so far two weekends have not been enough for me to experience all that I would like to see and do here. One of the best parts about Colonial Quito is that Ecuadorians love it too, so although it has a strong tourist pull, many Ecuadorians frequent this area of the city, so there is no way to possibly feel like you are in Disney World full of tourists.