5 Breathtaking Heritage Sites In Ecuador
Ecuador is spanish for ‘equator’ – and it can be the center line destination for those looking to reconnect with nature and themselves during their next sustainable adventure in South America. Hosting 2 UNESCO natural heritage sites including Sanjay Park and the world famous Galapagos Islands, this is an amazing place for those looking for earthly pleasures. Falling into the cultural heritage of the region popularized by it’s proximity to the Andes mountains will reveal amazing treasures for the history traveler in the City of Quito, Santa Ana, and the 30K KM of the Andean road system. But where to start your epic regenerative road trip? Start with a little city, then drive out to a little jungle on this incredible journey into yourself in Ecuador.
City of Quito
Isolated in the Andes at 2,818 m. altitude, the city of Quito is spread along the slopes of the Pichincha Volcano and is bordered by the hills of Panecillo and Ichimbia. Founded by the Spanish in 1534, on the ruins of an Inca city, Quito proudly possesses one of the most extensive and best-preserved historic centres of Spanish America.
The city offers a remarkable example of the Baroque school of Quito (Escuela Quitena), that brings together the indigenous and European artistic traditions and which is renowned for providing the greatest contribution of Spanish America to universal art. The height of this art is represented by veritable spiritual citadels, among which are San Francisco, San Domingo, San Augustin, La Compana, La Merced, the Sanctuary of Guapulco and the Recoleta of San Diego, to name just the principal ones. These are recognized not only for their artistic value from the architectural viewpoint but also for their decorative elements (altarpieces, paintings, sculptures).
The city of Quito forms a harmonious ensemble where nature and man are brought together to create a unique and transcendental work. The colonizers knew how to adapt their artistic sensibility to the reality that surrounded them, building their architecture in a very complex topographical environnent. Despite this, the architects were able to confera stylistic and volumetric harmony to the ensemble. The urban routes are based on the original plan and include central and secondary squares as well as checkerboard-patterned streets and are aligned on the cardinal points of the compass. In the city centre, there are convents and churches as well as houses (1 or 2 floors with one or several patios), usually built with earthen bricks and covered with stucco, combining the monumental with the simple and austere.
The city of Quito, the cradle of Pre-Colombian cultures and an important witness of Spanish colonization maintains, for the time being unity and harmony in its urban structure despite centuries of urban development.
Elevated to the title of capital of the Audience of Quito, it assumed the political direction and patronal control over the villages and towns. This is the maximum representation of the step towards forming socio-economic development, creator of a true national idiosyncrasy expressed through its unique tangible and intangible heritage.
Historic Centre of Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca
Located in the heart of the Andean mountains, the town of Cuenca is entrenched in a valley irrigated by four rivers: Tomebamba, Yanuncay, Tarqui and Machangara. This location has over a long period of time favoured close contact with the natural environment. The Historic Centre of Santa Ana de los Rios de Cuenca includes the territory that was occupied by the town of Cuenca until the first half of the 20th century, as well as the archaeological site of Pumapungo and the corridors that include the ancient access routes to the town.
The Historic Centre of Santa Ana de los Rios de Cuenca is a remarkable example of a planned inland Spanish town (entroterra) that bears witness to the interest given to the principles of Renaissance urban planning in the Americas. Founded in 1577 according to the guidelines issued thirty years earlier by the King of Spain, Charles V, it has preserved over four centuries its original orthogonal plan.
An Indian community was in existence at the time of the arrival of the Spanish, (Inca-Canari); from this time on the character of the town of Cuenca was determined. The urban layout and the townscape of its historic centre, corresponding to colonial towns located in the interior of the land with an agricultural vocation, clearly bears witness to the successful fusion of the different societies and cultures of Latin America.
The urban fabric of the Historic Centre of Santa Ana de los Rios de Cuenca comprises a system of parks, squares, atriums, churches and other public spaces. Around the Plaza Mayor (Park Abdon Calderon), the three powers of society are always present: political with the town hall and the Governor’s Office, religious, with its two cathedrals opposite one another and the judiciary with the Law Courts. Its paved streets are wide and sunlit. Moreover, the simple colonial houses have often been transformed into more important residences, especially during the period of relative economic expansion due to the production and exportation of quinine and straw hats (19th century). This resulted in a specific architecture that integrated the diverse local and European influences.
A few buildings merit mention: the New Cathedral, begun in 1885, the Old Cathedral, the Carmelite Monastery and Santo Domingo Church. The religious architecture, closely related to public areas, where community life is expressed, greatly contributes to the urban profile of the town.
The vernacular architecture illustrating the techniques and organization of space during the colonial period is principally located in the periphery of the historic centre and in the rural areas. A strong concentration of this type of architecture is located along the River Tomebanba (el Barranco) that defines the boundaries of the historic town on the south side. It is also in this sector that the site of Pumapungo is located (Puma Gate) in the heart of the Inca town of Tomebamba, and that of Todos Santos (All Saints) where the vestiges corresponding to Canari, Inca and Spanish cultures have been unearthed by archaeologists.
Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System
Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System is an extensive Inca communication, trade and defence network of roads and associated structures covering more than 30,000 kilometres. Constructed by the Prehispanic Andean communities over several centuries, the network reached its maximum expansion in the 15th century, during the consolidation of the Tawantinsuyu, when it spread across the length and breadth of the Andes. The network is based on four main routes, which originate from the central square of Cusco, the capital of the Tawantinsuyu. These main routes are connected to several other road networks of lower hierarchy, which created linkages and cross-connections. 137 component areas and 308 associated archaeological sites, covering 616.06 kilometers of the Qhapaq Ñan highlight the achievements of the Incas in architecture and engineering along with its associated infrastructure for trade, storage and accommodation as well as sites of religious significance. The road network was the outcome of a political project implemented by the Incas linking towns and centers of production and worship together under an economic, social and cultural programme in the service of the State.
The Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System is an extraordinary road network through one of the world’s most extreme geographical terrains used over several centuries by caravans, travellers, messengers, armies and whole population groups amounting up to 40,000 people. It was the lifeline of the Tawantinsuyu, linking towns and centres of production and worship over long distances. Towns, villages and rural areas were thus integrated into a single road grid. Several local communities who remain traditional guardians and custodians of Qhapaq Ñan segments continue to safeguard associated intangible cultural traditions including languages.
The Qhapaq Ñan by its sheer scale and quality of the road, is a unique achievement of engineering skills in most varied geographical terrains, linking snow-capped mountain ranges of the Andes, at an altitude of more than 6,600 metres high, to the coast, running through hot rainforests, fertile valleys and absolute deserts. It demonstrates mastery in engineering technology used to resolved myriad problems posed by the Andes variable landscape by means of variable road construction technologies, bridges, stairs, ditches and cobblestone pavings.
The Galapagos Islands area situated in the Pacific Ocean some 1,000 km from the Ecuadorian coast. This archipelago and its immense marine reserve is known as the unique ‘living museum and showcase of evolution’. Its geographical location at the confluence of three ocean currents makes it one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. Ongoing seismic and volcanic activity reflects the processes that formed the islands. These processes, together with the extreme isolation of the islands, led to the development of unusual plant and animal life – such as marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, giant tortoises, huge cacti, endemic trees and the many different subspecies of mockingbirds and finches – all of which inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection following his visit in 1835.
Sangay National Park
With its outstanding natural beauty and two active volcanoes, the Sangay National Park illustrates within its 270,000 hectares the entire spectrum of ecosystems of Ecuador. These include glacial and volcanic ecosystems, cloud forests, Amazon rainforest, wetlands, lakes, and the fragile moorlands (páramos) and grasslands of the highlands. Geologically, this area is especially important due to the presence of the Sangay volcano, which at 5,140m in altitude is one of the more active volcanoes in the world. The Sangay National Park also provides significant habitat for a rich flora and fauna, including many threatened species such as the Mountain Tapir and the Spectacled Bear.