Эквадор República del Ecuador Ecuador

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La Plaza de la Independencia
Also called La Plaza Grande, this became the main square of Quito in the 16th century. The Spanish were afraid that the Incas might poison their water supply, so the Spanish set up their own protected well here, and this plaza subsequently became the social center of town. It also served as a central market and bullfighting area. Today, Old Town's main square is bordered by the Government Palace on the west, City Hall to the east, the Archbishop's Palace on the north, and the cathedral to the south.

The Government Palace is the most interesting building on the plaza. Don't be intimidated by the chain-link fence in front of the palace; everyone is welcome to walk inside the main area -- just tell the guard that you're a curious tourist. Once you walk into the main entry area, you can get a sense of the Spanish/Moorish architecture. If you look straight ahead, you'll see the impressive 1966 mural by Guayasamín, of Orellana discovering the Amazon.

The City Hall is probably the least impressive structure on the plaza. It was built in 1952, in the Bauhaus style. The Archbishop's Palace was built in 1852; it was formerly the mayor's house. You can now walk inside and see the Andalusian- and Moorish-inspired courtyard; note that the floor of the courtyard is made from the spines of pigs. This area is now an informal crafts market. The cathedral dates from the 16th century. Inside is a good collection of art from the Quito School, including works by Caspicara and Manuel Samaniego. You can visit the cathedral Monday through Saturday from 6 to 10am. The square is most beautiful at night, when all the buildings are lighted up.

Capilla del Hombre (Chapel of Mankind)

A few blocks from the Fundación Guayasamín , this impressive structure is in many ways the culmination of the work and dreams of Ecuador's great modern artist, Oswaldo Guayasamín. Guayasamín, who died in 1999 at the age of 90, had wanted to open the museum on the first day of the new century, but financial problems and construction delays postponed its opening until November 2002. Dedicated to "man's progress through art," the architecturally intriguing chapel houses many of the artist's paintings, murals, and sculptures, as well parts of the his personal collection of colonial art, archaeological finds, and contemporary art. Incan and indigenous mythological beliefs are incorporated into the design of the building, which is three levels and which uses the number 3 for various motifs and architectural elements. The eternal flame in the chapel's altar is dedicated to those who died defending human rights (or the rights of man, which explains the name of the museum). Guayasamín himself is buried here, beneath a tree he planted, which has been renamed El Arbol de la Vida (The Tree of Life). Allot yourself about an hour to view the museum.

Casa Museo María Augusta Urrutia

It's hard to have a favorite sight in Old Town -- there are just so many amazing things to see. But this museum, which provides a nice break if you've been visiting churches all morning, ranks high on my list. It allows modern-day visitors to envision what it must have been like to live in a 19th-century Spanish-style mansion in Old Town. When you enter the house, you immediately find yourself in a gorgeous courtyard. Not much has been changed since Doña María Augusta Urrutia lived here, so the dramatic entry that you see is probably what the Pope and many other world leaders also experienced when visiting this home. (Doña María devoted much of her life to philanthropy with a Catholic bent.) The house is surprisingly modern, with a full bathroom and modern kitchen appliances; but there are also a cold storage room, a wood-burning stove, and the oldest grain masher in Ecuador. The interior is gorgeous, featuring antique European furniture, a bed that belonged to General Sucre, hand-painted wallpaper, stained-glass windows, handcrafted moldings, murals on the walls, and Belgian tiles. There is also an incredible collection of Ecuadorian art, much of it by painter Victor Hideros.

El Panecillo (Virgin Monument)

From a distance, the hill that hosts a huge statue of the winged virgin does indeed look like a panecillo (small bread roll). Since it's directly south of the city, this hill was an ideal spot to construct the 45m-high (148-ft.) La Virgen de Quito, an enlarged copy of Bernardo de Lagarda's La Virgen de Quito sculpture that is on display on the main altar in the San Francisco church. The Panecillo stands at about 3,000m (9,840 ft.), so you can also see the sculpture from the center of Quito.

The significance of the Panecillo Hill dates back to Inca times, when it was known as Shungoloma (Hill of the Heart). Before the Spanish arrived, the Incas used this hill as a place to worship the sun. Later, from 1812 to 1815, the Spanish constructed a fortress, to control what was going on down below. These days, most people come up here for the 360° views of Quito. Tip: For the best vistas, try to get here early in the morning (around 10am), before the clouds settle in around the nearby mountains. On a clear day, you can see Cotopaxi in the distance.