Now, it’s not enough to simply select Quito’s Historic Center as your wedding destination. It really is important to pick the perfect wedding-related venue, and, in the heart of the Old Town, there is one hotel that truly stands head and shoulders above any other in the city. We invite you to read all about Casa Gangotena and why it is an ideal wedding venue for you.
As the world starts to adjust to a new normality, we have adapted the way we do most of our everyday activities. Today, after 67 years of leading the tourism industry in Ecuador and South America, we face our biggest challenge yet: restarting operations while maintaining both our client's and staff's health and safety.
When you think of a hotel, you don’t instantly ask yourself “What is its history?” Really, all we usually want to know is if they have comfortable beds, good showers, and attentive service. However, the question inevitably springs to mind when you arrive at the front doors of the awe-inspiring Casa Gangotena and enter the lobby. With its intricately-designed, soaring ceilings and rich, tapestry-sized oil paintings, the clues of a long history and a good story can be sensed the minute you step through the door.
In fact, you can’t help but feel the walls of the house emanating its proud history as one of Quito’s first building blocks. Casa Gangotena has a rich history filled with despair, joy, vindication, and, of course, a well-known family behind it all. As you begin to hear more about the history of this magnificent hotel, you realize that it is much more than just a place to stay – it is a fantastic opportunity to form a part of the Casa Gangotena family and witness the colorful history of Quito firsthand.
When was Casa Gangotena first built?
Think back to what life would have been like in the 16th and 17th centuries in the Spanish colony of San Francisco de Quito. At that time, Quito was only a mere whisper of what it is today. Currently home to nearly three million inhabitants, in the beginning, it was only a tiny town that consisted of 200 people. The colony boasted a few churches, private residences of the rich and, most importantly, many plazas. It was a major city in its infancy.
San Francisco de Quito and San Francisco Plaza (which happens to be the largest of its kind in Quito) was originally founded by Sebastian de Belalcazar in 1532, but it wasn’t until 1600 that Casa Gangotena (which was then another structure known as Casa de San Miguel) was built by the Ponce Castillejo family, right on the southwestern corner of the plaza. At that time, plazas were used as local councils, a place to conduct business amongst the citizens, and market places; therefore, a house on the plaza was often synonymous with good standing in society.
Due to its close proximity to the enormous San Francisco church and convent, the house was named after Saint Michael, a Roman Catholic saint who was widely considered to be the guardian and defender of the church.
The very first occupant of the house, before it was even finished, was Francisco Ramirez de Arellano, a mineral prospector who discovered large mines in Esmeraldas and Santa Barbara. At this time the house was much smaller than it is today and didn’t have such an ornate façade.
Why “Casa Gangotena” and who were the members of the Gangotena family?
The building was known as Casa de San Miguel for its first 200 years, as resident after resident came and went. But in the 18th century a Basque Spaniard, Martin Gangotena, bought and moved into the residence, renaming it Casa Gangotena shortly thereafter.
Throughout history, the Gangotena family was consistently believed to have been a wealthy one but, according to historians, when the family first arrived in Quito they didn’t have a penny to their name. However, the family quickly flourished in the growing city due to their entrepreneurial spirit. The family then expanded into other areas, eventually becoming known as important industrialists, politicians, academics, and landowners.
The Gangotena family always played a prominent and influential part in society, and their names are mentioned throughout the history of Quito. They were benefactors of the San Francisco convent, and became widely known as friendly and welcoming people, hosting numerous gatherings at their house – that is, up until some of their personal items were stolen from them by a friend.
Despite its opulence, the building was called “Casa” which means “house” in Spanish. The luxurious mansion was and will always be a home in spirit, as Casa Gangotena continues to uphold its long tradition of hospitality and warmth in its exquisite food, impeccable service, and relaxing ambience.
What was Casa Gangotena like when it was a private mansion in the 18th century?
Casa Gangotena has sat on the edge of a very busy plaza throughout both colonial and modern times and, as such – it has always been a center of activity and action. As entrepreneurs, the family thrived in this atmosphere at every turn. Back in the day, the San Francisco Plaza was where the main commercial transactions in Quito occurred. Casa Gangotena was always open to friends and family, and from time to time they even held Catholic mass inside the house. On numerous occasions they set up shops and small dwellings for friends in the façade of the building.
Consequently, the house became a chaotic space that was constantly filled with the babble of activity and the sharp smells of herbs and spices piercing the air. The colorful assortment of people in the various dwellings and the different shops led to an ever-changing atmosphere of constant movement – a veritable representation of a bustling, cheerful, colonial home. As of today, it is easy to sense that Casa Gangotena is much more than just a hotel; it still retains the character and feel of that warm, welcoming home.
What disaster happened at Casa Gangotena?
And then disaster struck. In 1914, the house was burned beyond repair. Officially it was recorded as an electrical problem, but rumors persist to this day that contradict this theory. It was rumored that one of the Gangotena daughters was engaged to a local gentleman. She broke off the engagement and the scorned lover retaliated with arson. Although it seems like a drastic way to exact revenge, we know that the Gangotena family arose from the ashes and built something much grander than what the city had seen before.
Nearly everything was lost in the fire, but the Gangotena family was determined to take advantage of the opportunity to transform the building into something completely new. They put the Russo brothers, famous Italian architects, in charge of the reconstruction project. Of course, the styles of the times had changed drastically in the hundreds of years since Casa Gangotena had first been built, and the new house did away with the original colonial style, opting instead for the elaborate European architecture that was in vogue at that time. Most of the materials used in the rebuilding process were shipped directly from France, Germany, and Italy.
The reconstruction of Casa Gangotena was a testament to their family name. Once not able to afford a house, the family had now grown into a group of prosperous and wealthy industrialists and landowners that engaged in business throughout Ecuador. As a result, they were now able to afford the luxury of aristocratic commodities including the tastes and styles of the Russo brothers.
In 1922, the new and more ornate Casa Gangotena was finished and the family was able to move back in. They continued to improve their home life and commodities in the constantly growing capital city of San Francisco de Quito.
One of their main requests was to build a canal to their home from a natural spring flowing from the Pichincha mountain. They were granted permission to build it despite muted opposition among other people living in the area. Opposition quickly dissipated soon thereafter, though, when the city suffered an unprecedented drought. The family gave access rights to the municipality to provide water to the neighborhood. As a sign of gratitude from Quito, the family never received a water bill until the house was sold in 2007!
How did the building go from a family home to Hotel Casa Gangotena?
Sadly, the Gangotena family line slowly died out. After the last two Gangotena residents of the mansion, Mimi and Lola, passed away, the house sat empty for about eight years. In 1978, the historic center of Quito was declared the first-ever UNESCO World Heritage Site, but even with that title no one was interested in turning the venerable Casa Gangotena into a museum or tourist attraction.
Eventually, in 2007, the tired building was bought by Roque Sevilla, who had made his mark as a renowned economist and former mayor of Quito. Now, as the owner of Metropolitan Touring, he dreamed of creating something never done before: transforming this historic jewel into a unique hotel experience. He understood the tremendous importance of Casa Gangotena in Quito’s history and the significance it would represent for each guest who would visit it. His vision was aided by the fact that he had frequently visited the house with his aunt when he was a child and could remember its former magnificence. He knew that Casa Gangotena could provide an experience like no other, but also knew it would require a lot of work to restore it to its original glory.
The story of Casa Gangotena’s restoration itself is filled with blood, sweat, and tears. The building was nearly 100 years old by then and had entirely collapsed in parts. Only a few men at a time were able to work on the upper floors, as the foundations were so frail that it could have collapsed even further. The restoration not only had to be strong enough to hold 28 bathtubs on each floor, but also had to be as close to the original as possible. Workers meticulously removed the original surviving floors and art, not only so that it could all be reused for the upcoming hotel, but also so that work on the foundations could be done without damaging the original heritage of Casa Gangotena.
Renovations took close to three years to complete with the constant work of about 100 workers. Casa Gangotena finally reopened in October 2011, and thanks to their painstaking efforts the end result is truly astounding – a magical and breathtaking step back in time.
Why are there different types of architecture in Casa Gangotena?
The flamboyant Russo brothers used many muses when they originally rebuilt Casa Gangotena after the fire. They had been influenced by art deco, Renaissance, and art nouveau.
Of course, there were some areas where the original architecture simply could not be restored to its former state, such as the modern and diamond-shaped glass roof that now covers the lounge area or the glass doors that adorn the front entrance. However, the original architecture of the Russo brothers was carefully replicated or restored as much as possible.
Is there any original art?
One of the oldest objects in Casa Gangotena is a mirror innocently sitting on the first-floor landing. Upon close inspection, you can see that it has slight burn marks which reveal its history as a surviving piece from the 1914 fire.
During the reconstruction of Casa Gangotena, the builders worked diligently to remodel and renovate while sticking as close to the original architecture as possible. The ceilings were expertly restored to their previous grandeur and even the original Gangotena family crest is seen in the original stonework along the high archway that stands across from the main entrance.
Frescoes were painstakingly restored and preserved in some of the hotel’s most treasured suites. The fresco in the Junior Suite, for instance, depicts the Gangotena family on horseback while another shows a serene body of water. Even a large fireplace from the upper salon was removed and placed in the lobby along with the aforementioned mirror displaying the Gangotena insignia.
Why is the Casa Gangotena logo a seashell?
To answer this question, it is important to understand there was very little infrastructure connecting the Ecuadorian highlands and coastal region in colonial times. The only access route to the coast from the highlands was a rather treacherous and tedious trip down the Andes. Therefore, the choice of a seashell would seem to many to be an unexpected choice.
However, the seashell was used extensively as a form of currency by many Native American tribes, including the Inca and pre-Inca cultures. At first, coastal tribes began using the clam shell, and the practice caught on like wildfire throughout the Americas. One of the most prominent places for trading in the Pichincha province was where San Francisco Plaza is now located.
In ancient times, this area was actually busy commercial center, dating all the way back to an era before the Spanish ever arrived in South America. The San Franscisco Plaza itself was actually once a major trading point for goods from many different regions. The main form of payment was, in effect, the clam shell. When the Spanish arrived, they took over the area and turned it into a more modern trading area, but continued to use the clam shell in some of their trading, especially with the indigenous tribes.
One growing and prominent family during this time was the Gangotena family. Their frequent use of seashells in their commercial transactions reflected their position as they gradually came to be known as successful entrepreneurs and traders. If you look carefully at the Gangotena family crest, which is proudly displayed above the wall-length mirror in the Casa Gangotena lobby, you can see a seashell depicted over the mountain. In this case, the seashell symbolizes the success of the Gangotena family from their early beginnings in the city of Quito up until the thrived and prospered with their businesses and deals throughout Ecuador.
This seashell has been modified to become the logo of Casa Gangotena in homage to the Gangotena family. But it’s not just a tribute to the family that built the house, as it also represents the atmosphere of the hotel and its fundamental purpose. Casa Gangotena is not only a hotel – it symbolizes its deep connection with the community, and is an icon of pride for every Quiteño as well as a standing reminder of the city’s aristocratic origins.
The history of Casa Gangotena isn’t just a list of dates and events – it is a collection of unexpected twists and turns that tell the story of a family growing and flourishing in a nascent city. It speaks to the growth of Quito and the cornerstones that helped build and transform the city into what it is today. Though it is now under the guise of a hotel, Casa Gangotena was and always will be a home built for bringing people together in unparalleled comfort and luxury.
There is a moment when the inky blackness of night turns to a milky hue over Plaza San Francisco. Rousing from your comfortable bed at 5:30 a.m. and heading to Casa Gangotena’s third-floor terrace , you will witness the darkness shift, slowly at first, almost imperceptibly. Then suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the historic square is bathed in light, revealing an excellent view from the terrace of Casa Gangotena. Here on the Equator, the sun rises at almost exactly 6 a.m. every day of the year. For those from hemispheres closer to the poles, it also rises and sets surprisingly quickly (due to the angle at which it rises or sets beyond the horizon).
The View from Casa Gangotena at Dawn: All is Quiet
Why attempt this dawn madness, this self-inflicted insomnia while on holiday in the capital of Ecuador? Because at this time, all is quiet. The city is absolutely still. This is the window before the workers and tourists are bussed in from near and far, the enchanted hour when the city is entirely itself. It is a glimpse into the square before it has to face the world. It is like arriving early to an empty school: all the marks of life, and all the space and tranquility in which to study it.
“Merrrrcio de hoy! El Comercio!” A street seller advertising newspapers breaks the reverie with his daily call. Church bells join in with their peal from the golden La Compañía church, or perhaps they ring out from one of the ten churches surrounding Casa Gangotena. Then there is the flap-flap-soar of hundreds of pigeons taking off, lost devilish souls on the lookout for Cantuña, Plaza San Francisco’s legendary trickster.
Snapshots of Local Life
In this first pale light, a prone dog and a contemplative man sitting on the great, half-moon steps of the San Francisco atrium cut solitary figures. A man hurries across the square carrying a plate of food and backpacked youths stop to ask from directions from an indigenous woman in an elegant brown trilby, the golden beads of her necklace catching the early sun. These are the intimate snapshots of local life: a morning like any other in the Old Town, yet one of the most magical ways of experiencing it from this spectacular morning view from Casa Gangotena.
The Sights Reveal Themselves
On a clear day, one can see all the way across the city to the great white peak of the Cayambe Volcano, luminous and oddly close-looking to the east of the neo-Gothic spires of the Basílica del Voto Nacional. At 5,790 meters (18,996 feet), Cayambe is the third-highest of Ecuador’s peaks, located some 70 km (43 miles) from the city itself. Some of Quito’s best sights reveal themselves one-by-one: the great winged Virgin of the Panecillo statue, the green-tiled domes of churches, fertile pasturelands and the colonial patchwork of the Historic Center.
A City Stirs
One by one, traders take up their positions around the square under their rainbow-colored parasols that signal the opening of doors to all. A man selling bags of corn makes his first transaction of the day and pigeons swoop in. The child who threw the grains stomps in, scattering them once again.
The Day Begins…
At 8:30 a.m., the great wooden doors of the Chapel of Cantuña open with a clank, ready to receive the worshippers of the city. Plaza San Francisco has been filled with color, with noise and with life. Another spectacular and lively day in Quito has begun. And you’ve just gotten a proper sense of what it’s like from this excellent view from Casa Gangotena! And now…
Once you have captured this exquisite moment from the terrace of Casa Gangotena, what now? Breakfast, of course! Head downstairs to Casa Gangotena’s restaurant to begin the day anew, in both luxury and style.
Whatever you need at our boutique hotel in Quito – cigarettes, honey, a helicopter – Alfonso Díaz is the best in the business and is here to sort it out. Find out the secrets of Casa Gangotena’s expert concierge here…
What was your first experience of Quito’s Old Town?
I grew up in Quito. My grandparents would take me to the Centro to go shopping. My grandma would always visit the San Roque neighborhood. Once when I was little, they brought me right here to this house, to buy spices. It’s unbelievable to imagine now, of course, but this used to be a spice and herb shop, just like the ones across the road on Calle Cuenca. Every time I behaved badly my grandparents took me to La Compañía a church, and told me that if I carried on behaving badly I would be sent to hell. They showed me the paintings as they wagged their fingers at me.
What is your aim as a concierge?
I want the few hours guests to spend in our Quito Old Town hotel to be among the best experiences they have in the city. So when they go home, they don’t just talk about how amazing the churches and squares were, but how they selected the best downtown hotel in Quito. I want them to talk about how they were met with sincere smiles and how happy the staff at Casa Gangotena was.
What do you need to be a good concierge?
To know my city, to know my place of work, to have a vocation, and to passionate about interacting and sharing with people. A concierge should turn every problem into an opportunity. I’ve had to cater to certain guests who simply aren’t interested in churches or museums. They’ve said: “I want to live how you live. Where do we go?”
So I sent them to eat hornado (roast pork) at the Iñaquito market, corvinas (sea bass) in Santa Clara, and tripas (intestines) in La Floresta. And you know what? They came back ecstatic, saying, “This is exactly what we wanted!” Not all the best hotels in Quito can organize an everyday Quito experience at the drop of a hat like that. That’s why we take pride in being able to help our guests experience the city the way they want to.
When our guests arrive at our Quito hotel, I take them up to the roof and point out all the best iconic buildings. Casa Gangotena is surrounded by 10 churches! I personally love La Compañía and tell guests they have to go and visit it. I always have a map ready. And if they arrive at night, the panorama changes entirely, with the Old Town completely illuminated and glowing. If it’s daytime and the weather is on our side, we can even see Cayambe Volcano situated far away to the northeast – the only snow-capped peak in the world that sits right on the equator!
What is the strangest request you’ve had from a guest?
In another job, a guest wanted to go to Cuenca, but they didn’t want to travel by land. So I found them a helicopter – at the price of US$18,000 and they agreed! After adding the tax and sending the luggage by land the price came out to around US$30,000.
What are your best tips for enjoying this Quito hotel?
First of all, in the afternoon, when guests have their Café Quiteño, I always suggest that instead of sitting at the tables in the patio, that they come and enjoy the sofas where they can be more comfortable. I always watch them afterward: they start all formal, and then little by little, they relax and truly enjoy the moment.
And I always say, “Anything you want, just ask!” Whether it’s me or any of the people working here: we’re here to help. If you want chewing gum, some cigarettes, a pill – anything! Sometimes guests are embarrassed to ask for a glass of water or to take the little jar of honey from the Café Quiteño up to their rooms.
That’s the secret to making the most of your time here: to rest assured that we are always here to help you.
What are your best tips for enjoying the Historic Centre?
You have to like walking! An adventurous spirit helps, too. And to always keep your mind and senses open. If you go downhill on Calle Rocafuerte a couple of blocks, you’ll get to breathe in the amazing, sweet aromas, for example. If you head over to the pretty street of La Ronda, you’re going to experience all kinds of different sights, aromas, and sounds: from canelazos to pizzas and empanadas, they will all open your senses.
Why is it important for Casa Gangotena to offer its special experiences?
We’re not a typical hotel, not merely a place to lay your head and nothing else. The whole concept here is to act as a home for our guests. When you’re “back at home,” people care about you and look after you. They give you advice, they are there for you. When you’re looking to where to stay in Quito, I’d say that you’re not just going to Casa Gangotena, you’re going to your casa. It’s a welcoming home, in the broadest sense possible.