QUITO, a World Cultural Heritage Site

Expedition Tours

22 September 2020

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QUITO, a World Cultural Heritage Site

 

The first city declared by UNESCO 42 years ago

 

For centuries, Quito was the capital of prosperous empires and the Seat of Government for the Pre Incan Quitu. Empire; then it became the northern capital of the Inca Empire and later, the capital of the Royal Audience of Quito, under the Spanish 4-century rule.  Since 1830, Quito is the capital of the independent Republic of Ecuador.

 

 

Nestled along a 60 kilometer long, winding and narrow valley and surrounded by high mountains and volcanoes, Quito is one of the most spectacular cities in the world due to its natural setting.  On a clear day, you can see from any vantage point in the city at least 8 snow-covered volcanoes, including the imposing Mt. Cotopaxi, just 45 kilometers south of the city. Much of the city is built and crawls along the slopes and hillsides of Mt. Pichincha, a 4 thousand meter high active volcano.

This valley was selected by the earlier settlers and those who followed for its sheltered nature, protected from potential invaders by the natural barrier of the mountains, besides being a rich and fertile valley producing abundant food supplies for its inhabitants.

It is within this extraordinary natural environs that Quito flourished as an Andean gem, high at 2800 meters above sea level.  From here the Quitu Empire became a serious rival for the enormous Inca Empire.  Being just minutes away from the equatorial line, the Quitus realized their unique and special relationship with the King of the Skies:  the Sun, whom they worshiped as their God.  An amazing astronomical knowledge was developed, observatories were built, and the climatic patterns were carefully studied to apply them into the arts of successful farming.

The Inca rule lasted only for a few decades, just before the Spanish conquistadors arrived.  Upon the ashes of the burned Inca city, the Spanish city of San Francisco de Quito was founded in 1535 and became a major center of architectonic development and religious art.  Quito is frequently called the “Andean Shangri-la” or the “Florence of America”.  With the largest and best preserved colonial quarters in Latin America, UNESCO declared the city, in 1978, the first World Cultural Heritage Site in the World.

Old Quito is made of entire blocks of narrow and sometimes steep streets lined with colonial style houses, gracious flowered balconies, charming squares and more than 50 monumental churches, convents, monasteries, cloisters, plazas and historic monuments.  Many of them host superb museums and collections of the “Quiteño” School of Art, a unique mix between the Spanish and Flemish baroque of the 16th century and the Indian’s own conceptions and styles of art. Some of the main highlights here are Independence Square with the 17th century Presidential Palace, the Archbishop’s Palace and the Cathedral of Quito.  Not to be missed is La Compañia Church, built in the 1600’s with its altars covered in glittering gold-pan.  The church and square of San Francisco, both dating from the early 1500’s are major city icons. The churches and convents of La Merced, Santo Domingo, San Agustin and San Diego are well worth a visit.

From El Panecillo Hill, presided by the gigantic statue of the Virgin of Quito, the “Winged Maddona”, breath-taking views of the entire city and its surrounding volcanoes may be obtained

Quito also has a modern area, developed in the 20th century, to the north of the old town, and is now a bustling metropolis with high-rise buildings, business centers, modern shopping malls, ample avenues, and top class international hotels, restaurants, bars, casinos, internet-cafes, art galleries, cultural venues and fun-filled night entertainment. Its renovated international airport provides comfortable arrival and departure facilities and is served by dozens of important international airlines and domestic carriers.

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