Friday, March 11, 2011

The Magical Equator: Quito and The Countryside of Ecuador

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). 

four corners of space and time

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. 

Allegedly 7 tons of Inca gold cover the interior of this 17th century church, entirely executed by the unsigned craftmanship of the native people. 

Only in Quito will you see the Catholic Saints, surrounding an Inca sun. 

Basilica del Voto Nacional 
It is the largest neo-gothic basilica in the Americas.
Construction began @ 1882, and is still incomplete. It is guarded by South American gargoyles!

The Spanish colonials loved of the sophisticated French!

Mixed European styles and eras throughout the colonia. 

La Condamine stayed here with the Jesuits when he arrived bedraggled in Quito behind the first wave of the French Geodesic expedition that left France in 1735. Their mission was the accurate mapping of the equator and measuring the length of a latitudinal meridian. They recorded a great deal of flora, much of which was lost at sea, or during arduous travel. 

If you are longing for a spectacular trip for a fraction of the prices of Europe, go visit Michael and Ramelle Pulitzer at 

In the next post, I'll take you out to the countryside. 


For more extensive reading on the subject
I recommend: 

Robert Whitaker


  1. Oh my what a dreamy place. That's exactly what I imagine the garden of Eden looked like =) The architecture is amazing too, need to put this on my "places to visit before I die" list.

    Happy Friday Liz!

    xo Linda

  2. Liz - what a truly AMAZING trip. The architecture is incredibly beautiful and obviously so is the natural landscape. Fascinated with all the solar line markers etc - like the Nazca lines in nearby Peru. And the church - so much beauty!!

  3. Leaping Lizards! (pic #17)....such beauty. I'm so jealous of your trip Liz. You've managed to post a good selection of varied subjects that give the non-initiated a real feeling for the country. I wish that I were there's so gloomy here. Thanks for the visual treat...and keep 'em coming! k

  4. You are very fortunate. Such a lovely place.
    I love the doors, the cobble pathway and the cathedral! Wow!
    We expect a complete update.

  5. I feel like I just got the best idea of the year from this post! This is beyond gorgeous. I had no idea!!!!!! I must go there.

    I'm close to the equator, Antigua, so at least i've escaped the cold and dreariness for a week. Trying to hang on until Spring.

    xo elizabeth

  6. Liz,

    Ecuador is an amazing place! So delightful!

    Thank you so much for sharing it, sweetie.

    Have a blessed weekend,


    Luciane at

  7. When you mentioned a trip to Ecuador, I envisioned an arduous journey through a primitive third world country. I am truly amazed at the sophisticated architecture and artistry. It is a pleasure to see this amazing country through your eyes. Can't wait for more.

  8. Thank you for this great post. Having been raised in central Mexico, I am very familiar with colonial art and architecture, but the pristine beauty of Equador is thrilling--I wish that I were with you. Mary

  9. Thank you everybody for your sweet comments and patience. As the bloggers know, it is hard to run a house, a business, a blog and keep life moving along!
    More Later,

  10. love to make a trip there and will add that book to my reading pile.

  11. Ecuador is one of the most beautiful countries of South America. Nothing compares to the landscapes of the Highlands, the lush of the Amazon Rainforest, the exotic Beaches of the Coast and the mystery of the Galapagos Islands.

  12. Liz, this is a fascinating, wonderful, informative and beautiful post. I never knew much at all about this region and you've brought it's history and culture to life for me...thank you, truly a stunning and enchanting place.
    xo J~

  13. Liz,

    I was thinking earlier today how talented you are...

    Just dropping by to say that and to wish you a very blessed week!


    Luciane at

  14. wow - that was some memorable get-away!
    xo Cathy

  15. Looks like a great trip! So beautiful!!!
    Have a wonderful weekend.

  16. It looks breathtaking! Its officially on my list of places to visit!


  17. Hello sweetie,

    I just dropped by to wish you a happy weekend!


    Luciane at

  18. Great pics -- Ready to pack my Marseille bag!
    Moving Through: Household Downsizing and Estate Disposition

  19. Hi Liz, I have Tweeted and featured the Giveaway on Facebook, go to my profile page to see!

    Art by Karena

  20. I went to Ecuador a few years ago and just fell in love with it! We also went to the Galapagos Islands, which was unbelievable! I have a few of the same architectural pictures you do. ha!

  21. Such Inspiring Photos, a talent you are!

  22. spoke too soon, you were in quito! recognized so much and brought back lovely memories. part 2 shows the lovely countryside which i missed, how grand

  23. If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light. Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness and fears.

  24. 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.countryside tourism


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