Updated on October 29, 2011
Although I am expressing my nerdy side, I love to go look through the historic parts of any town, so of course it was one of the first things I wanted to do in Quito, Ecuador. This past Saturday a friend and I went to the old section of Quito and poked around in some of the historic parts.
The old section of Quito is full of people doing so many different things. There are people cooking food in the streets and others selling it. Boys asking to shine your shoes, other tourists meandering about and the occasional performer. Despite the allure of people watching all afternoon, we decided to first have a tour through Catedral Primada de Quito and then poke around in and afterward tour where the President works.
Catedral primada de Quito was enormous, elaborate and really interesting. I wanted to see it mainly because the cathedral took up an entire side of Plaza Grande or Plaza Inpendencia (it goes by both names as it is officially called Plaza Grande but also Plaza Inpendencia because whenever the Ecuadorian people have issues with something the president is doing, they protest here as his office is also in the square).
The cathedral had many rooms which housed the most interesting religious artifacts. One room had paintings of all the Bishops and Cardinals of the cathedral while another housed the garments they wore while giving sermons. The is one of the most intriguing rooms. It contains not only the tomb of Quito’s Independence hero, Mariscal Antonia José de Sucre, but also many paintings distinctly unique to this church and Ecuadorian heritage. Many of the paintings use syncretism to show not only religious scenes but also indigenous Ecuadorian people and animals as a way of connecting the church of the Spanish conquerors to the native Ecuadorians.
El Sagrario is another church that we wandered into and was built to be the main sanctuary of Catedral Primada de Quito. It is an incredibly grande cathedral. Most of the walls are guilded and there are shrines to various saints throughout the sanctuary. This cathedral also had some of the most interesting paintings of both Heaven and Hell, on opposing walls. The one of Heaven described the glory of it and how to get there while the painting of Hell has demons mutilating people who had committed various, and labeled in the painting, sins. There were no photos allowed in either of these magnificent cathedrals or there would be many here.
El palacio is the building where Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa works but unlike the American President does not live. We read that on occasion, and when the President is not inside working, they allow tours, so after some convincing we were allowed on a tour despite our lack of passports. The building itself is beautiful and has two courtyards as the main areas. Here someone takes the pictures of all the tourists to be printed off and handed out at the end of the tour. There are lush flowers throughout as well as fountains.
Going up the stairs to the second floor houses not only most of the important rooms, but also a mural of Ecuadorian history. The incredible mural spans three walls and describes the conquer of the indigenous people by the Spaniards. Upstairs there are many showcases that display everything from ancient artifacts of the indigenous Ecuadorian people to masks and ritual objects to a Russian doll of President Correa. The displays themselves are fascinating enough to make any museum lover smile. The tour then continues into the main diplomatic rooms of El Palacio where you get to see the Banquet room, the golden alter in it, and then another grande room that houses paintings of all the Ecuadorian Presidents. The tour was really interesting and definitely worth a try.
Of course there are many tiendas and artisans selling all different things in shops and the streets. There are artisan shops directly below El Palacio selling everything from horse hair paintings to earrings to indigenous blouses. The shop keepers are generally friendly and will allow you to touch and try on whatever you want. The shops in Plaza Grande had great prices and goods, but we still decided to venture beyond this plaza and found a plethora of stores selling all sorts of Andean good. Anything you could want to clothe yourself in can be found in these stores as well as backpacks, purses, rugs, blankets, and wallhangings. If you are at all interested in looking through shop after shop packed full of different goods, I highly suggest taking a walk around the Plaza.
Plaza Grande, or Plaza Inpendencia, is just one of the really interesting places to visit while in Quito. It is a good place to start as it is one of Quito’s most historic plazas, El Palacio is there and there are many marvelous cathedrals in this area. A tour of el palacio is definitely worth a try, but the Plaza itself and atmosphere still presents a great day of sightseeing.