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Historic Quito
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2015-02-08 18:11:01 | Quito, Pichincha, Ecuador
Keywords: Colonial
Quito has been an important city for the Inca empire before the arrival of the Spaniards. In 1534, the Spaniards took control of the deserted and mostly destroyed Inca city. They built a new city there, the current Quito. What's remarkable about Quito is that it's by far the most preserved colonial city in the Americas. For many square kilometres, the city just like it was centuries ago if you omit the modern transportation facilities.

Although it's surrounded by very tall mountains and is located at a very high altitude (2 850 m, or 9 400 feet), the land on which Quito is built is very hilly. Walking in the city is a real pleasure... but climbing the hills at this altitude can be hard on the heart, especially if you're not well accustomed to it. Technically, Quito is the world highest official national capital of the world. La Paz is much higher, but it's not the official capital of Bolivia (Sucre is), although it is the administrative capital.

The architecture of Quito is simply astonishing and everywhere you look, you see marvels. If you omit the cars, you are really transported back in time, especially since many local natives walk the city in traditional costume offering you food and souvenirs. Because of its large size, Quito is not just a huge souvenir shop... but it's an extremely well preserved time capsule of architecture and culture.

Santo Domingo church


Despite many earthquakes that shook that city through the centuries, all major buildings remained mostly intact and they were repaired according to the original plans, with suitable material. A great effort has been done in the last 20 years or so, following the 1987 major earthquakes. The old city has been somewhat modernized in terms of infrastructure, but while keeping the buildings as authentic as possible. An extreme care has been put in the restoration and the results are simply stunning, impossible to see the difference. Contrary to other Colonial cities, Quito rebuilds and repairs based on original plans with almost similar materials, and no new architecture buildings are allowed in the Old City.

The only thing not original is often times the lighting structure. Yes, of course they have modern lampposts and that's normal... my reticence is with the use of LED lighting in some streets. Yes, the amount of light generated is surely greater and the cost is significantly lower than using bulb lights... but that removes a bit of the charm of some streets (including the one where my hotel was).

You will encounter massive churches and small houses. The streets are mostly in bricks or flat cobblestones, so they're comfy and safe to walk on. Most houses have little iron balconies with flower pots everywhere. There are many tourist-oriented spots... but don't hesitate to go beyond them... the rest is just as lovely and it's not just a cute postcard front.  The most touristic street in Old Quito is "La Ronda", which you can see on the lead photo.

I spent two weeks in Quito and I enjoyed my time very much in this open-air museum. Because of the altitude and surrounding mountains, the sky is often cloudy (especially in afternoon), but I rarely got rain and even under a covered sky, the city is sometimes breathtaking.

Quito was the first city in the Americas to be listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, in 1978 (Kracow was also added that year, for the two only cities on that first year). So, along with the Galapagos, Ecuador had two of the first 12 inscriptions on the List. When you actually walk the old City, you have absolutely NO doubt it is fully deserved.

Street view of historical district

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León Viejo

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