The Queen’s Arc and its history

Today is particularly busy in Old Town Quito. I feel the warmth of the sun on my back as I walk down Garcia Moreno, my ears overwhelmed by the sounds of car engines roaring, tires unexpectedly screeching, loud honks (mostly unnecessary), and countless conversations between neighbors, vendors, couples, children ... The Old Town at the weekend is never still.

This morning I find myself in front of the famous Arco de la Reina – the Queen’s Arc – located at Garcia Moreno and Rocafuerte streets. I can’t shake off the smell of peanuts and sugar that surrounds me. I look around and find all these small shops that display countless mouth-watering sweets. People walk by and can’t help but whisper under their breath “qué rico”(“delicious!”). And I must admit I did the same. But wait! That is the subject of whole other blog, so don’t get hungry just yet. But yes, the Queen’s Arc smells a lot like Willy Wonka’s factory.

So, back to the Arc (which is actually two arches built of masonry). It was erected in 1726 to protect the indigenous church devotees who heard mass from the chapel of Our Lady of the Angels (located right in front of the church) from the rain. It was named the Queen’s Arc in honor of the first saint of Ecuador, Mariana de Jesus, who also listened to mass every day in the nearby chapel. It connects the Carmen Alto church with the old San Juan de Dios Hospital – Quito’s first hospital dating back to the 17th century – which is now the recommended Museo de la Ciudad (City Museum).

As I observe the massive white pillars before me, I find a long stone ledge. I climb up to sit on it, and it’s funny, I felt overwhelmed a couple of minutes ago, but now, the Arc that was built to protect devotees from rain shelters me from the passing cars and motorbikes...

In the past, the Queen’s Arc was infused with spiritual meaning by quiteños. However, today it would seem its only function is to protect visitors and tourists from the rain – even the chapel of Our Lady of the Angels nearby is closed. And yet, as I sit on my ledge and ponder a while, I spot some older folk passing through the Arc, and devotedly crossing themselves. The arc still has some power, it would seem.

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