The winged Maria statue, visible from all angles standing atop a hill, is an instantly-recognizable symbol of Quito’s Old Town, one of the many standout structures that led to it being awarded World Heritage Centre status by UNESCO in 1978. Among the marvels to be seen, there are churches, plazas, and theatres that shine out more than the rest.
The Historic Centre has been carefully preserved by its citizens and is a melting pot of pre-Columbian culture, the Baroque School of Quito that merges indigenous and European artistic traditions, creating a metropolis in harmony with its surroundings.
Explore the wonders of Quito’s Old Town within your footstep!
Visitors will note the traditional dress of many of the men and women working in shops or as street vendors, the shoe-shiners, and the stalls selling religious icons, customs seemingly unchanged for many years.
The churches and religious buildings of Quito’s Old Town are undoubtedly some of its finest jewels, and far from being of interest only to devout Catholics, showcase the city’s culture, history, and art through the ages.
Unmissable is San Francisco, the largest religious complex in Latin America that is located on the same square as Casa Gangotena, providing the hotel with some of its stateliest views. It was Quito’s first church and most significant to its religious culture.
La Compañía is a glittering example of Baroque architecture and style, every inch of its interior lined in gold and ornate decoration and a celestial blue dome.
One of the finest illustrations of neo-Gothic in the region, the Basilica del Voto Nacional is adorned with grotesque Ecuadorian animals seemingly frozen in stone, and the view from its towers is certainly worth the climb – and vertigo – to reach the summit. These three merely scratch the surface: there are many, many more churches and convents waiting to be discovered in the mysterious Quito streets.
Often framed by churches or important state building’s, the Historic Centre’s plazas (or squares) are the hub of public life. Plaza Grande (or Plaza de la Independencia, its official name) is a hive of activity, with shoe shiners and ice-cream sellers, coffee stands and artisanal stalls.
With one side taken over by the Presidential Palace and another by the Cathedral, the plaza is a meeting place for political demonstrations and religious congregations.
There’s also Plaza Santo Domingo with its market selling handmade crafts, as well as a litany of smaller squares in quintessential neighbourhoods.
Plaza San Marcos is one of these, a shaded, peaceful space to one side of the church, where locals come to sit on the benches and chat with their neighbours.
Not only is the Old Town home to the city’s finest architecture and history, it is also the cultural heart, with theatres and live music.
Teatro Nacional Sucre is the Old Town’s finest theatre, in aesthetics and history as well as the quality of its presentations. Opened in 1886, the grand neo-classical building plays host to the city’s renowned international jazz festival, as well high octane musicals and operas.
Day or night La Ronda is the place to visit for entertainment: by day the long, historic street is filled with quirky shops selling chocolates, panama hats and arts and crafts, while when darkness falls it offers the best nightlife, filled with streets performers and bars that demand to be entered with their live salsa music and dance shows.