Perched high in the Andes lies the capital Quito. Surrounded by the cragged mountain peaks of the Andes often shrouded in mist, Quito breathes of the Sierran culture. Modern concrete buildings mingle with architecture born of the Spanish conquest and the indigenous influence.
One of the highlights of the town is the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as ‘Old Town’—the largest historic center throughout the Americas. Old Town’s charisma lies in its Spanish colonial monuments, restored 17th century architecture, fanciful plazas, and fresco-filled churches that invoke awe.
Although Old Town goes on for blocks, it’s hard to miss the lofty grandeur of one of Old Town’s most impressive sights: The Basílica del Sagrado Voto Nacional (Basilica of the National Vow). The Basílica del Sagrado Voto Nacional is one of the country’s premier neo-Gothic churches, and it’s the largest of its style in South America. Situated on top of a hill toward the northeastern Old Town, the basilica dominates the skyline.
While the architecture is distinctly neo-Gothic with its arches, buttresses, and gargoyles, the design is definitively Ecuadorian. The church’s arches are graced with sculpted grotesques of Ecuadorian animals such as Galápagos tortoises, iguanas, armadillos, condors, and dolphins. Not only does the architecture represent the people, but the people themselves helped in the construction of the basilica. Local townspeople contributed stones toward the basilica’s construction, and in return their names were engraved upon the rock.
Another major landmark within Quito’s Old Town is El Panecillo, or Bread Loaf Hill. The hill rises from the south of the colonial center, and on top of the hill an aluminum state of the Virgin of Quito roots. The statue was constructed between 1955 and 1975, and the distinctive Virgin Mary is crowned with stars, adorned with angelic wings, and clasping a chained dragon. The original name given to the hill is Shungoloma, meaning “hill of the heart” in Quichua, and many believe that its current monument is fitting for the hill’s indigenous heritage.
The highest viewpoint in the Basílica del Sagrado Voto Nacional the is known as the Condor Tower. People say that the tower was made at the lowest height that a condor can take flight, which gave it its name.