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The City of Quito has the best-preserved, least altered historic centre in Latin America. It is located on an active stratovolcano in the Andes mountains. The city's elevation is 9,300 ft (2,850 m) above sea level.

Quito's origins date back to the first millennium when the Quitu tribe occupied the area and eventually formed a commercial center. The Quitu were conquered by the Caras tribe, who founded the Kingdom of Quito about 980 CE. In 1462 the Incas conquered the Kingdom of Quito. In 1533, Rumiñahui, an Inca war general, burned the city to prevent the Spanish from taking it, thereby destroying any traces of the ancient prehispanic city.

Indigenous resistance to the Spanish invasion continued during 1534, with Diego de Almagro founding Santiago de Quito, later to be renamed San Francisco de Quito. In 1563, Quito became the seat of a royal audiencia (administrative district) of Spain and became part of the Viceroyalty of Peru with its capital in Lima. The Spanish promptly established the Catholic religion in Quito, with the first church (El Belén) built even before the city had been officially founded.

In January 1535, the San Francisco Convent was constructed, the first of about 20 churches and convents built during the colonial period. The Spanish actively evangelized the indigenous people and used them as slave labor for construction, especially in the early colonial years.

A chain of conflicts concluded on May 24, 1822, when Antonio José de Sucre, under the command of Simón Bolívar, led troops into the Battle of Pichincha. Their victory marked the independence of Quito and the surrounding areas.

Quito was one of the first sites ever that was inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978 (number 2).


Laura Barber (USA):
We spent time in quito on both ends of a trip to the Galapagos. It was a beautiful city surrounded by mountains and churches! The people were extremely friendly and we spent time walking throughout the city. We visited the Bascilica and climbed the tower to the top where we could see the volcano in one direction and the statue of the virgin in the other direction. The Plaza of Independence was centrally located and a gathering place for the citizens. Over by the San Francisco plaza was a wonderful art store with locally made souvenirs. The streets are narrow and very hilly...reminding me od San Francisco in California. The climate was great and while the altitude was bothersome to some people; I didn't notice it. It was a very specail visit and added a great deal to our Galapagos trip.
Date posted: November 2011
Jorge Giraldo (USA):
Quito, probably the most fantastic "big town" in South America. The complex of the San Francisco church-square-convent is probably the most impresive urban complex you can see in that part of the world. When you are on top of the "atrium" of the church in a normal saturday morning,wich is an open marketplace, wish its design is based of Bramante's ideas,you realize so many thinks about the the Spaniards, the "Criollos" and the "Indios".
the church-convent-atrium are located in the highest part of the squeare, and it is the most important landmark in the city. From the atrium you can see the Company church, wish is probably the most refined church in America.
Be prepare for the food. It just exquisite, and be prepare to walk around the historic area. Do not hesitate to get into the churches, convents and even houses.
You will love it
Date posted: May 2008
Solivagant (UK):
Quito got in on the “WHS act” as early as 1978 when it was 1 of the first 12 sites inscribed (I have seen it claimed that it was in fact the very first site inscribed – this may be the case but the evaluation document on the UNESCO Web site gives it a reference number of “2” which, in the original, has been manually changed from “1” whilst Galapagos is still numbered “1 bis”). It is interesting to look at the rather “thin” Advisory Body Evaluation and compare this document with the bureaucratic statements which intending sites must now have produced about them by ICOMOS . 10 years later Lima joined the party but, by that time it had to be more specific and is entered just as the “Historic Centre of Lima” whereas Quito is inscribed apparently in its entirety as the “City of Quito”!
But perhaps this difference is not just a matter of changes in UNESCO policy – there is no doubt that Quito has maintained the atmosphere of a “colonial city” far more than Lima. Or rather - it “had” done so. My 2 visits were in 1973 and 1992 respectively and the city had developed considerably during those 19 years let alone the next 13 – I remember particularly that the airport which was previously “out in the country” had been gobbled up by the suburbs.
I assume from reading about the city however that, despite developments around the edge, increases in traffic and no doubt some office blocks in the centre Quito has managed to maintain what was an extremely pleasant colonial centre. Indeed if its inscription as early as 1978 has meant anything then it must have done so!
I remember it particularly for its wonderful setting nestled among green mountains and for the number of colonial buildings, plazas, churches and narrow cobbled streets. The climate was pleasant and the air was clear and fresh and a short bus ride away you could see snow capped volcanoes and sit astride the Equator. Maybe the air is a little less “fresh” now! The other Andean country capitals from Caracas round to Santiago, pleasant as some of them are, do not begin to match it.
Date posted: June 2005

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Site info

City of Quito
Country: Ecuador
Inscribed: 1978
Cultural Heritage
Criteria:  (2) (4)
Category: Urban landscape, Colonial

Site history:
1978 Inscribed
Reasons for inscription

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Baroque . Mudejar style .
Destroyed or damaged by Earthquake .
Stratovolcanoes .
Andes . Highest cultural WHS . Pan-American Highway .
Built over the ruins of an Incan city . Qhapaq Nan (Inca) .
Individual People
Tupac Inca Yupanqui . Visited by Alexander von Humboldt on his travels .
Religion and Belief
Cathedrals . Conceptionists . Dominican Order . Franciscans . Jesuits . Mercedarians .
Built in the 16th century .
Built or owned by Spanish . Cultural sites closely connected to volcanoes . Located in a Capital City . Major City Centres . Preservation assisted by Getty Trust .
WHS on Other Lists
U.S. Ambassadors Fund . World Monuments Watch . World Monuments Watch (past) .

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