Last week, in A New Guide of Walking Tours in Quito, I discussed Quito, Ecuador Townscape Walks by Tyler Burgess, a new guide about that colonial city. As promised, I shall share my adventures of one of the tours.
One Saturday, I go walking with Burgess. One of her routes goes to a museum showing a collection of works by modern-day Japanese artists. I ask Chizu if she would like to see her paisanos’ creations. With the guide in hand, we head down to the Plaza Grande, the starting point for many of the Old Town walks. Today, we shall walk the Plaza Grande to La Basílica circuit (4 km / 2.5 mi).
The plaza is full of foreigners taking a tour of the Centro Histórico. A line of people are waiting to enter the Presidential Palace for a walk-about of that historical building. Old men sit on benches, catching up on gossip. A preacher is predicating the Bible on the steps of the Cathedral. Chizu and I take stock of Burgess’ description of the plaza before heading to the right, up Calle Venezuela.
At this 10 o’clock morning hour, many of the shops are yet closed. The street begins climbing steeper. At the top of the hill rises the Basílica. We stop to take photos of Iglesia del Carmen Bajo (Venezuela and Olmedo). This church was where inependence leader Mariscal Antonio José de Sucre was secretly buried for over a half-century.
We finally reach the Basílica (Venezuela and Carchi), on the edge of San Juan Hill.The neo-Gothic spires scape the cloudy sky. Several Ecuadorian tourists come out, having summitted the tower for the incredible views. Chizu had gone just the other day, so we decide to continue on. As we pass along the Venezuela side of the Basílica, I point out the gargoyles to Chizu. Along the nave, they are of animals native to the Galápagos. Around the apse, they are jungle beasts.
Two blocks north of the Basílica, Venezuela widens into a street-plaza. A street to the left leads up to the former military hospital (ex Hospital Militar), perched on a small knoll. This extensive white edifice is now home to the Centro de Arte
Contemporáneo. It spreads its white wings across the verdant grounds, like a reborn dove meeting the sun trying to emerge through the clouds. The front patio has an amazing view of Antisana, Sincholagua and other volcanoes to the East. Unfortunately, today we are not blessed with their visage, veiled in thick, velvety clouds.
The Centro de Arte Contemporáneo opened the end of 2009. It features special exhibits—usually three per month—of contemporary art by national and international artists. A few months ago, it hosted a retrospective of the Mariano Aguilera national art competition. Today, we are treated to the photographs of Rolf Blomberg, a Swede who lived in Quito for five decades, a Guayaquil collective’s statement on money and the Japanese contemporary artists’ display.
After a cup of coffee in the museum’s café, we are stoked to continue our walk with Ms Burgess. Following her instructions, we then began the aerobic part of the walking tour into a part of town I had never explored before. Up the steps at the end of the Contemporary Art Center’s hill to Parque García Moreno, and to the incredible views from Calle Benalcázar and Calle Cuenca. We are up higher on San Juan Hill, where the Inca’s silver Temple of the Moon had been. I tell Chizu the story of Quitu’s destruction by Rumiñahui, so the Spaniards would have nothing when they stormed in on their horses.
Then up and down staircases, glimpsing the back patios of Colonial Quito homes, stopping to take more photograph of the incredible vistas. At the corner of Benalcázar and Olmedo, I show Chizu the city map paved into the plaza. A portly statue of the Spanish conquistador, Sebastián de Benalcázar, stares down at us. On the opposite corner is what purportedly was his house.
From here we head up one block, to walk past Iglesia de la Merced (Calle Chile and Calle Cuenca) and over to Plaza San Francisco (Calle Cuenca and Calle Sucre). Then down Calle Sucre, past the Compañía church to visit the Casa de Sucre (Calle Sucre and Calle Venezuela), the once-home of Mariscal José de Sucre. This Venezuela-born general was one of the most important in Latin America’s Wars of Independence, and led the decisive Battle of Pichincha here in Quito. With that victory, Gran Colombia’s independence was sealed.
Back south-bound on Venezuela, to the Catedral (Venezuela and Espejo), to visit Sucre’s tomb and the magnificent museum of religious art. We pop out of that church into the bright afternoon sun. Within a few steps we are back to our starting point, Plaza de la Independencia.
If you happen to be doing the route on a weekday, stop into the Museo Camilo Egas, a museum dedicated to one of Ecuador’s most famous 20th century artists. It is located about midways between Plaza Grande and La Basílica. On the opposite corner is Govindas, where you can have a good vegetarian lunch.