In an Andean basin just south of the equator on the slopes of the Pichincha volcano, Quito is the capital of Ecuador and of the Pichincha province. The political and cultural capital of the country, its old town was made a UNESCO heritage site in 1978.
Quito was originally inhabited by the Quitus. Between 1000–1487 the city was ruled by the Shyris, a mix of Quitus and lowland Cara Indians. After the town was invaded by the Incas in 1487, it became an important Inca city. All traces of Quito’s pre-Colombian culture were eradicated when the warrior Tahuantinsuyo attacked and burned the city. In 1534 a new town laid out in the typical colonial grid plan was created by the conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar. In 1563 Quito became the seat of government for the Real Audiencia de Quito, part of the Viceroyalty of Peru. Quito attracted many Jesuit, Franciscan and Augustinian missionaries who established strong religious communities. In the mid-sixteenth century, Franciscans founded an art school which inspired the decoration of numerous churches and cathedrals.
For over three centuries Quito remained a small isolated city, its Andean location providing little attraction for migrants. The first calls for Ecuadorian independence came in the second half of the eighteenth century. They were led by Quito-born physician and writer Eugenio de Santa Cruz y Espejo who voiced revolutionary ideas through satirical writings. After an uprising in Quito in 1809, a declaration making Ecuador the first self-governing region in the Americas was signed in the city’s Monasterio de San Agustín. But this was short lived and the city was soon reclaimed. Independence eventually came in 1822 when Simon Bolivar’s general, Venezuelan revolutionary hero Antonio José de Sucre, took Quito.
In 1908 the Guayaquil–Quito railway was built linking the capital with the country’s second city and beginning an expansion to the north and south which continued throughout the twentieth century. By the end of the twentieth century, Guayaquil had overtaken Quito as Ecuador’s economic centre, although the capital retained its political and cultural influence.
Quito is Ecuador’s second largest city and its main centre of textile production. Other industries include brewing, tanning and flour milling. The city’s universities include the Universidad Central del Ecuador which was founded in 1586. Quito is linked with Peru and Colombia via the Pan-American Highway and its international airport is 10 km north of the centre.
Places of Interest
Quito’s old town is rich in colonial architecture and full of historic churches and cathedrals decorated with wooden sculptures and paintings. With its Baroque altar and ceiling decorated in gold leaf, the Monasterio de San Francisco is the city’s oldest colonial building dating from 1534. In the Plaza de la Independencia next to the presidential palace is the cathedral in which Sucre is buried. Quito’s museums include the Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, which displays a mix of traditional artefacts and contemporary art, the Museo Guayasamín, dedicated to the work of the indigenous painter Oswaldo Guayasamín, and the Museo de Arte y Historia, which shows 16th and seventeenth century colonial art. Sucre’s Quito home is now a museum. 30 km southeast of Quito the Reserva Forestal de Pasochoa rain forest shelters a wide variety of birds and wildlife.