31 October, 2018 Christopher Klassen2
Reading Time: 10 minutes

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.

Quito_fundacionSan 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 <em>Casa de San Miguel</em>) 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 <em>Casa de San Miguel</em> for its first 200 years, as resident after resident came and went. But in the 18<sup>th</sup> 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.

Iglesia_y_Plaza_de_San_Francisco_Quito_1920-1The 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 <em>Casa</em> 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.

Iglesia_y_Plaza_de_San_Francisco_en_domingo_de_mercado_Quito_1870Consequently, 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.

incendio quitoThe 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.

Casa Gangotena Boutique Hotel, luxury accommodation in the Historic City of Quito, Ecuador, South America

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.


24 August, 2018 Christopher Klassen0
Reading Time: 3 minutes

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.

The First Sounds of the Day

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…

…Breakfast Beckons!

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.


Reading Time: 4 minutes

Whatever you need at our exclusive Quito hotel – 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 neighbourhood. 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 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 spend in our Quito 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 made the best possible choice by staying at Casa Gangotena. I want them to talk about how they were met with sincere smiles and how happy the staff they encountered were.

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 Quito hotels can organise 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 faraway 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 afterwards: 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, 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. So you’re not just going to Casa Gangotena, you’re going to your casa. It’s a welcoming home, in the broadest sense possible.


Reading Time: 4 minutes

A lively retelling of an old Ecuadorian folk legend by the Devil himself awaits you! This exclusive tour in Quito is available only to guests of Casa Gangotena, located on the corner of Plaza San Francisco in the historic center.

“What is the Devil doing in a church?” Satan asks us, his long, flowing black hair and glinting horns stark against the golden interior of the chapel.

It’s a good question, and one that several worshippers are turning round in their pews to ask, too…

The Devil (or a man dressed convincingly to look like him in natty black suit and sweeping cape with red, silky lining) has brought us here to teach us about the legend of Cantuña, the most enduring and retold of Quito Old Town’s folk legends about Plaza San Francisco. Available only to the guests of Casa Gangotena, the Quito hotel that stands on the corner of the iconic square, the experience begins at 6 P.M. sharp in the Chapel of Cantuña, an ornate temple found through great wooden doors to the left of the main San Francisco church.

Here, in this 16th-century chapel adorned with an impressive art collection from the  Quito School, Lucifer begins his tale. In a voice trembling with woe, he explains how he was tricked by Francisco de Cantuña, a humble indigenous stonemason in charge of paving the atrium of the great religious complex.

Realising that he wouldn’t finish his work in time, Cantuña prayed to God for help. When his prayers weren’t answered, he turned to the Devil, who immediately appeared and offered him a deal. If the Devil could finish the work by sunrise, he would consign Cantuña’s soul to the fiery depths of hell. But if he left just one stone, the agreement was void. So Satan called on his little devilish helpers who set to work immediately, toiling through the night and finishing the paving just as the sun began to rise. But before he could triumphantly claim Cantuña’s soul, the crafty craftsman pointed out that there was one stone missing – a stone that he had hidden. The Devil had been duped.

To demonstrate, our Devil flounces outside to the atrium to show us the missing stone, to the left of the half-moon staircase. Under the setting sun, crowds gather as Lucifer laments how he punished his little devils by turning them into pigeons, ordering them to stay on Plaza San Francisco to search for the soul of Cantuña.

But not just an urban legend, Cantuña was a real man – the Devil points out a door that the man made, as well as his tombstone fixed to the wall inside the peaceful patio of the San Francisco complex, now a vision of pink in the dusk, its trees smothered in dainty orange flowers.

“Close your eyes!” the Devil urges us in the middle of patio. We listen to the silence. Not silence, he points out, but the voices of the thousands of lost souls trapped within the great walls of the monastery. Spooked by the palm trees which, for the Franciscan religious order, represent the Virgin Mary, Satan makes one last bid to claim a soul, inviting us to make a deal with the Devil. Oddly, no one volunteers, so he leaves us with his phone number (666-666) and Facebook (Don Satan) and disappears into the shadows.

He puts his glasses on and comes back for a chat. The “Devil” is actually Jaime, an actor who has been reprising his diabolic role for two years. Plenty of time, then, to learn some of the darkest secrets of the monastery located in the heart of Quito’s Old Town.

He points out how cows’ internal organs were used to make statues shine and how locals know the church as the Iglesia del Diablo. He says it really is true that among the winding corridors and 12 patios of the ancient construction are a legion of lost souls; he once saw a ghostly little girl hiding behind a column, way after hours. He tells us of the mysterious disappearance of Fray Agustin, and of the Devil’s Tower where monks still fear to tread, terrified of something terrible hidden there after dozens of monks were murdered by soldiers during the Liberal era, dragged through the streets by their brown robes.

But above all, Jaime loves the peace found in the monastery, the tranquillity a world away from the urban plaza. Gazing around the patio as the last vestiges of light disappear he smiles with wonder, and sighs: “Each sunset has its own magic.”

Not the type of magic that summoned the Lord of the Underworld, mind you, just the very Quito Old Town, very Casa Gangotena kind.


Reading Time: 4 minutes

Some of the best experiences in Quito can be had in and around one place: Casa Gangotena, the Old Town’s very own boutique hotel, a place to engage all 5 senses. Experience the sights, sounds, scents, tastes and touches of Quito by staying at our hotel.

The sights

A feast for the eyes and the soul, the sight that most defines Casa Gangotena is the view over Plaza San Francisco, not from afar but as one of its most defining elements. The twin white spires of the religious complex, the iconic buzz of the square itself and the domed and mountainous skyline of Quito Old Town are ever present whether you’ve risen at dawn to watch the sunrise, you’re having breakfast at the window table in the restaurant, or relaxing in your room’s bathtub looking out over the city at dusk… The backdrop to any stay in our Quito hotel is the emblematic plaza, the true heart of historic centre, from all angles, in every light, from sunrise to the dark of night.

The sounds

To really hear the sounds that ensconce Casa Gangotena into its Quito Old Town home, you have to throw open the window. Yes, that same maximum-strength window that sound-proofs your stay and allows you the most peaceful of nights’ sleeps. With the barrier removed between you and Plaza San Francisco the sounds of the square become your soundtrack. Listen out for the plaintive cry of: “’mmmmercio de hoy! El Comercio de hoy!” of the newspaper vendor, and the cracking flap as a legion of pigeons in flight. According to legend, these birds are the lost souls of devils searching for crafty Cantuña, the workman said to have tricked the Devil himself. Awakening to these sounds is to awaken like a true Quiteño, roused by the motions of the city.

The scents

You don’t have to set foot out of your Quito hotel before you have smelled the scents on the breeze wafting from the surrounding traditional neighbourhood. It is the aroma of dried herbs and spices from the shop across the street on Calle Cuenca that drifts into the garden: warm, rich and exotic. These colourful seasonings will recur during your stay here, in the subtle flavours of the Mestizo Cuisine at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Within the hotel, a familiar, citrusy scent layers over the air, that of the hundreds of orchids in the patio and corridors, echoing the plethora of these lovely flowers found across the length and breadth of Ecuador.

The tastes

Your first taste as you enter Casa Gangotena is the same as that enjoyed by many Ecuadorians arriving at their destination after a long journey: agua de frescos, the traditional welcome drink. Stained fuchsia pink by the super-cereal amaranth and the drink’s all-natural and organic ingredients, the refreshing beverage contains seven different fresh herbs, including chamomile and lemon verbena, which have myriad health benefits aside from cooling the body and quenching thirst.

Return to our Quito hotel after 4 P.M. after a day of exploring Quito’s Old Town and the hotel’s signature taste is darker and richer: Café Quiteño, a kind of Quito high tea, is served with premium local coffee or a delicious range of herbal and fruit teas. It is this respect for Ecuadorian products, flavours, and traditions that makes the Casa Gangotena experience so unique, and so entrenched in its wonderful surroundings.

The touches

There are many things to delight your sense of touch at Casa Gangotena: the softest bed sheets, the opulent velvet sofas and the cool marble pillars. But these are things that could be found in any luxury hotel around the world. The feeling that sets Casa Gangotena apart is less tangible: the feeling of being looked after, of being absolutely at home in Quito Old Town. It’s the warm smiles of the staff and the natural attentiveness of the concierge around the lovely spaces of the hotel that leave the lasting feeling at Casa Gangotena.


22 September, 2017 Christopher Klassen
Reading Time: 4 minutes

If these walls could talk, they would have quite the tale to tell. The history of Casa Gangotena begins with a tale. A tale that stretches beyond time immemorial, spanning ancient civilisations, tumultuous conquests and religious upheaval, fires and reconstructions, romance and betrayal.

But throughout its varied history, guises, bricks, uses and even names, Casa Gangotena has been at the physical, spiritual and civic heart of the city.

But where did it all begin?

According to the first Spanish chroniclers, modern-day Plaza San Francisco boasted many temples, including that of Huayna Capac, the all-conquering Inca Emperor of the 15th century. It is said that the emperor himself used to stroll from the San Francisco area to where Santa Clara now stands. The plot where the mansion was built was the Temple of the Blue Militia – the élite royal bodyguard – during the Incan period.

As soon as the Spanish arrived in the Incas’ northern capital in 1534, the religious orders soon set about converting the hearts and minds of the local population. Thus the Franciscan order occupied the whole western hillside of the vast square, which had for centuries been used as a giant open-air market for traders from every region. The Casa therefore occupied a pivotal place in colonial Quito, bearing witness to the construction of the city’s first Catholic church.

History of San Francisco Plaza

The original house was built in 1600 by the Ponce Castillejo family, who sold it to a rich cacao impresario by the name of José María Caamaño during the independence era. The wealthy man rented the residence to the first Presidents of the Republic, including Vicente Rocafuerte (1783-1847): after all, the Presidential Palace was just around the block on Plaza de la Independencia. Other notables, like notorious Eloy Alfaro, were among guests.

First known as Casa de San Miguel, the house kept the original title for more than 200 years until it was changed to Casa Gangotena in 1840, named after its wealthy residents who owned lands across the Cotopaxi Province, with haciendas like El Balcón and Buenavista (a farmhouse that María Gangotena would donate to Cistercian monks to build a monastery).

The final owners of the house, the Gangotenas, were one of the capital’s leading families, with important industrialists, politicians, landowners, academics and even poets among their number.

In many ways, their own histories are intertwined with that of the city: a document shows that after an intense period of drought in the 17th century, the family was granted free water for as long as they lived in the house, after they agreed to bring in their own supplies to Quito from lusher lands.

In 1914, the house suffered a calamitous fire – local historians say that a bitter ex-boyfriend of one of the Gangotena daughters was to blame, setting ablaze to the mansion on her wedding day. The wrecked marriage would not last long – barely 24 hours, in fact.

The home was completely rebuilt in 1926, the palazzo vision of the Italian Russo brothers, architects with a taste for grandeur and finery. Out went the colonial style, replaced with ornate columns, fountains, and murals. Of these frescoes, one of them depicting the Gangotena family on horseback, each member’s name inscribed on their steeds’ reins can now be seen in the hotel’s Junior Suite. Another, in the former sunroom on the mansion’s southwestern wing, where society dames used to come to sew and gossip, showed a glorious maritime scene, complete with whimsical little sailing boats (now the Balcony Junior Suite).

Decades past and the house fell into decline. Sisters Mimi and Lola Gangotena were the last direct descendants of the wealthy Spanish family to live there. The latter was the wife of former Ecuadorian president Camilo Ponce Enriquez, and the couple had five children. After the death of the sisters, the house was passed on to a foundation, which sold it in 2007 to Roque Sevilla, former mayor of Quito, who was interested in purchasing the emblematic building (which he had visited for tea parties as a child) as a hotel, thrilled with its unique position on Plaza San Francisco.

A tale of restoration fit for the silver screen followed, and in 2010 Casa Gangotena reopened, in its latest incarnation: a luxury, boutique hotel.

But the story doesn’t end here. Every guest, every cook, every cleaner who passes through the doors becomes part of Casa Gangotena’s narrative, each playing their role. There’s so much more for these walls to see.


21 July, 2017 Christopher Klassen
Reading Time: 6 minutes

A labour of love, the transformation of Casa Gangotena from almost-derelict family home to luxury hotel was beset with challenges, but the vision of preserving the character of an extraordinary historic building in Quito overcame them all.

For four centuries, the home of the illustrious Gangotena family has guarded the corner of Plaza San Francisco, the most iconic of all Quito’s squares with its religious and historic heft (link to Religious Museums Blog).

The building itself is not Colonial: burned down in a fire in 1914, the special mansion was rebuilt by Italian architects, the Russo brothers, who made the family home into an Italianate palazzo, adding Romanesque columns and art-deco touches. The family moved into the mansion in the early 1920s.

A new purpose

Mimi Gangotena was the last direct descendent of the wealthy Spanish family to live in the house. The wife of former Ecuadorian president Camilo Ponce had no children, so on her death, the house was passed on to a foundation of nieces and nephews. The foundation decided to sell the house, and notified Roque Sevilla, former mayor of Quito, who was interested in purchasing the emblematic building (which he had visited for tea parties as a child) as a hotel, thrilled with its unique position on Plaza San Francisco. The sale was made in 2007.

The new owners would face many, many challenges to turn the mansion into the luxury hotel you see today.

A sorry site

When builders first set foot on the site, Casa Gangotena was more Miss Havisham than high-class hotel. Paint was grey and peeling, corrugated iron covered damaged tiles, floorboards and walls were cracked and damp bubbled at the lovely old murals.

The final resident, Mimi, had lived in just a few rooms on the second floor, complete with a huge, intricate altar, which was removed and sold upon her death like a great deal of the other furniture. (If you fancy buying some for yourself, some pieces can be found in the Artik UIO antiques shop in the colourful La Floresta neighbourhood). The rest had fallen to various degrees of ruin.

Breathing new life

For the new owners, it was imperative to rescue as many of its gorgeous original features as possible in order to preserve the inimitable character of the house. There were the murals: one depicting the Gangotena family on horseback, each member’s name inscribed on their steeds’ reins (the hotel’s Junior Suite). Another, in the former sunroom on the mansion’s southwestern wing, where society dames used to come to sew and gossip, showed a glorious maritime scene, complete with whimsical little sailing boats (now the Balcony Junior Suite).

Both were painstakingly restored. Parquet flooring in the upstairs dining room was rescued and transported downstairs where the bar and Crimson Room are today. Silk panels added by the flamboyant Italian brothers were removed and gently renovated, and stucco plasterwork was taken down panel-by-panel and fiercely guarded as the works continued. Even a hefty fireplace was moved from the upstairs salon to the main entrance as well as the hotel’s iconic mirror.

Original decor, modern comforts

One of the greatest challenges for the team was restoring the mansion to its former glory, while making it fit for 21st-century luxury travellers. It was a task that architect Pedro Jaramillo accepted with gusto.

For example, the lovely old house only had two bathrooms. How would they make the floors strong enough to withstand the weight of 28 bathtubs filled at the same time, should everyone in the hotel wish to bathe at the very same moment?

This dilemma forced the builders to widen narrow corridors, replace double doors with fire doors, and to lower the sky-high ceilings to incorporate modern pipes, electronics and fire safety equipment. Yet to look at them, you’d never know the difference.

Going down?

Then, there was the elevator. Perhaps the greatest set-back they faced, the team discovered on digging down that what lay beneath the hotel was not pure earth, but an extra room of the next-door house, given permission to do so by former Casa Gangotena owners.

There was nothing for it but to move the elevator. But where to? The only place that worked within architect Jaramillo’s re-drawn up plans was where the sweeping, double winged staircase stood with its art-deco bannisters. The staircase was removed, the elevator constructed in its place, and a striking, winding spiral staircase created alongside. This new staircase is now an emblem of the building itself – testament to the architect’s designs.

A further change the builders were to make was in the patio. Today the hotel’s conservatory, filled with orchids and eclectic furnishings, resembling an English garden gazebo, the space was once an open-air quadrangle with a fountain at its heart. A glass roof was installed to create the relaxing space for guests, and the water feature was moved to pride of place in the redesigned garden.

Although you’d never know it, an entire extra floor was built on the eastern wing, topped with solar panels to heat water. Meanwhile, a whole floor was excavated beneath the mansion’s west wing in order to create a goods’ delivery entrance and a hidden-away service area for the kitchens and staff.

Three years later, the mammoth construction, the labour of love, was finished. But that wasn’t the end of the preparations.

Building a community

The new owners were keen to integrate the hotel into its community around the San Francisco square, the barrio known as San Roque. So, along with the owners of the neighbouring Casa del Alabado archaeological museum, they funded a non-profit cultural organization which aimed to improve the community’s standards of living, sense of belonging and integrate them into the tourism project. Many of these neighbours – including the last miller family in the Old Town, the painters of saints, embroiderers, hat milleners, traditional healers, and the traditional candy makers – are now part of tours the hotel can organize with a local guide.

When it came to the opening, locals were delighted to be invited to the first of a string of cocktail parties in celebration. And neighbours lined up around the block to get a peep inside in the tours offered by staff – the first time they had seen inside the former home of the legendary Gangotena family.

The restoration of Casa Gangotena has not only meant the physical regeneration of a unique building, but the rejuvenation of an entire neighbourhood. It has shed its aristocratic origins to become the heart and soul of a flourishing community, and a source of pride for all Quiteños.

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