Friday, March 11, 2011
Photo Courtesy of New View Tours
Last winter I vowed not to endure the dreary months of January and February in North Carolina, so when my friends Ramelle and Michael Pulitzer of New View Tours sent me their itineraries, I jumped on The High Sierra Tour.
There is no way I am going to poke around a third world country on my own, and since the Pulitzers have beaten a path down there for years, joining their group made this adventure possible for me. Many of our friends have visited the 17th century Hacienda Cusin, our home base down the Pan American highway, an hour outside of Quito. Our host Nik Millhouse celebrated his 21st year of inn keeping with us, and we were dazzled by his extensive knowledge of the area and charmed by his wit and humor. We stayed on the El Monasterio side of the Inn, a short walk through the exotic gardens shared between them.
Elaborately carved doors into El Monasterio courtyard
The equator is a bewitching place. At 9,200 feet we are in a verdant paradise where tropical plants grow side by side with English garden flowers of all seasons.
Above us, are the third closest mountains to the sun, below us are vertiginous ravines and gorges, as if nature had squeezed every aspect of herself into this corner of the world.
The ancient cultures and rich heritage of the area are derived from this abundance. With three harvests a year, the wealthy, indigenous people had time to calculate complex and highly accurate celestial measurements, knowing well before the Europeans that the earth was round, that they lived in the center of the planet, that the earth tilted at 23.5 degrees (actual 23.45) and that it orbited the sun.
The Equatorial line passing through the high plateaus and mountains of Ecuador provides a unique place on earth to observe the stars of both hemispheres simultaneously. Solar sight-line markers were erected over great distances to accurately mark the solar and lunar traverses. Many of Quito's churches were built on top of much earlier, indigenous astrological monuments, lined up along the route of the sun on the summer solstice. The Quitsato Project has more information on this topic.
I took this photograph of an old door on the Hotel Andaluz in the Colonial heart of the ancient city, conquered by the Spanish from the Incas in 1534. The eight sided star in the center is an archetypal symbol and is believed to have been the basis of locations for indigenous Ecuadorian observatories. The roots of the eight-point star symbol are derived from early astronomy. The eight lines are symbolic of the four corners of space (north, south, east, and west) and time (two solstices and two equinoxes).
This eight sided star is seen throughout the region in textile designs, yet would have been integrated by the Spanish, as moorish architectural motifs. Layers of indigenous, Inca, Spanish, Moorish and French building design co-exist in Quito, much like the rest of the flora, fauna and dramatic geology of the equatorial region.
The Plaza Simon Bolivar, commemorating the liberator of grand Columbia (Ecuador, Peru, Venezuala and Columbia). Note the Moorish roof lines.
Quito was the first city in the world to be named a UNESCO heritage site. On the left you can catch a glimpse of the presidential palace. On the corner, the bizarre Chilean Auricaria tree towers above the square, in front of the former home of Manuela Sáenz, lover of Bolívar who rescued him from an assassination attempt.
It is hard to imagine that the massive, Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco commenced construction in this remote colonial outpost in 1535. With the assistance of the large indigenous enslaved population they managed to complete it within 100 years. Layers of Moorish, indigenous, Judaic and Catholic symbols combine to magical effect.
Photography is forbidden in the sacred places, however, this image is reproduced so frequently, I cannot credit the photographer.
La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús began construction in 1605, by the Jesuits, and was not completed until 1765. It is one of the great baroque masterpieces of South America, modeled after the churches of Gesu and St. Ignazio in Rome. Notice the Solomonic columns, evident throughout the city. They are symbolic of the Judaic doctrine that life's journey starts at the bottom (on earth), but by following the holy path it ends at heaven.