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Culture and Society > Northern Andes Culture

| Important Towns | Historical Routes | Archeological Ruins |
| Indigenous Markets | Artisan Crafts | Ethnic Groups |

Towns of Historical and Cultural Importance

Situated in an Andean valley at 2,850 m above sea level at the foot of Volcano Pichincha (4,794 m), Quito is a modern city with a living history. One of Latin America’s most historically important cities, Quito has been declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity site by UNESCO. Noteworthy for its architectural beauty, Quito is home to numerous churches and convents built in the colonial period. The Metropolitan Cathedral, located in Independence Plaza, is one of the city’s most impressive historical and architectural sites. Others worthy of mention are the following cathedrals and historical sites: San Francisco, la Compañía de Jesús, San Agustín, Santo Domingo, El Sagrario, La Merced, Carmen Bajo, San Sebastian, Santa Barbara, and San Blas. A large part of their interiors, especially the altars and pulpits, are gilded in gold and house innumerable works of religious art. Some of their museums hold valuable collections of paintings and sculptures belonging to the artistic genre which has been come to known as the Quito School.

Another important building is the Carondelet Palace, the seat of the Central Government. In Quito’s historical center, with its steep, narrow, cobblestone streets, the artistic and architectural influence of Spain can be seen in the general architectural style of the homes, their balconies, their tiled roofs, and their interior patios.

The city has its annual festival in December, when festivities such as bullfights, the election of the Queen of Quito, national and international concerts, street dances, and fireworks turn Quito into the site of a national gala for an entire week. The celebrations are in honor of founding of Quito on December 6, 1534 by Sebástian de Benalcázar.

Another colonial area, outside the of Old Town, is the suburb Guápulo. Perched on the eastern slopes of the city, Guapalo’s most impressive sight is its famous sanctuary to the Virgin of Guápulo, the oldest sanctuary of its kind in the country.

In the center of the country lies Riobamba, the former Ecuadorian capital. Its colonial surface reveals beautiful churches such as the Cathedral, La Basílica, La Merced, and San Antonio. A rich collection of religious art is on display in El Convento de la Concepción. With its cobbled streets, the city lies alongside majestic snowcapped Chimborazo.


Historical Routes

An old railway line, constructed at the beginning of the last century, runs from Quito to the south of the country, passing through Riobamba. Along the way it is possible to view the spectacular Andean Range with its paramos, mountains, forests, flora, and wildlife. Along the way, you’ll pass the Devil’s Nose (La Nariz del Diablo). Dropping down this hair-raising stretch of track from the height of the Andes to the western lowlands is a thrill for any passenger. This engineering marvel requires going up and down through a series of zig-zags. The spectacular setting is very close to the community of Huigra, in southern Ecuador.


Archaeological Ruins

To the north of Quito are the Cochasquí ruins, an archaeological site containing burial grounds that belonged to Quito’s first inhabitants. The pyramids were erected with a material called “cangahua”. The route leading to this area runs from Guayllabamba to Tabacundo.

Rumicucho is another complex of pre-Incan ruins. It can be found 4 km to the north of San Antonio de Pichincha. El Pucará de Rumicucho was a military fortress used strategically by the Incas in their conquest of the northern Andes. In the Valley de Intag, in Imbabura, you’ll find the strategically located Gualimán, a pre-Incan ceremonial site with burial mounds, pyramids, and access ramps. The site is also home to a small museum filled with archaeological vestiges. In nearby Chimbo, in the province of Bolívar, the pyramid-shaped ancient burial grounds at Cerro Zumbi, are an interesting site. Another archeological hot spot is the Punín cementary, 30 minutes outside of Riobamba. Dating back to prehistoric times, Punín is known for housing fossilized remains of animals from the Pleistocene Era. Human remains dating back over 8,000 B.C. have been discovered in the same area in the Chalán Gorge. The area has a museum and also is home to the Sanctuary to the Lord of Chuypi.


Indigenous Markets

The most important indigenous market in the country can be found in Otavalo, in the province of Imbabura. Dozens of communities congregate in the Plaza de los Ponchos to display their textile works every Saturday. The techniques used to produce the clothing, blankets, and tapestries dates back to colonial times. There are also many other handicrafts offered including naive art, ceramics, personal accessories, jewels, bags, and more. In Saquisilí, in the province of Cotopaxi, there is another market gathering of eight different neighboring communities who offer every class of agricultural products, including cattle and sheep.


Artisan Goods and Handicrafts

Calderón, located 15 minutes from Quito, offers visitors a variety of products handcrafted from bread dough. Small objects and ornaments, smooth and colorful, that represent individuals synonymous with the country as well as other themes are also on sale. They are typically sold along the community’s main avenue. Southeast of Ibarra, in the province of Imbabura, we find the small town of Cotocachi. Known as the “Musical Capital of Ecuador”, it is also widely visited for its fine leather crafts. Small and large stores in the center of the community offer fine and delicate articles. Weekends are the best time to become familiar with the art of leatherworking. In La Esperanza and Zuleta, close to Ibarra, the woman skillfully produce fine multicolored embroideries. There are also artisans here dedicated to leatherworking.

In Pujilí, in the province of Cotopaxi, the artisans are known for their ceramic painting and glass works. Ambato, the capital of the province of Tungurahua, is well known for the fine leather work of its craftsman. Nearby, is Pelileo, which has become an important industrial town, in addition to being a center of handcraft production. Pelileo’s central attraction are the Salasaca Indians, who produce ornamental tapestries with wool and natural fiber. Today, San Pedro de Pelileo is most widely known for its production of denim clothes. In Bolívar we find San José de Chimbo, 20 km from Guaranda, widely known for its manufacture of guitars. Its woodworkers also participate in the construction of fireworks displays. Guano, 10 minutes from Riobamba, is an important artisan center for woolen textiles. The area’s speciality is the production of rugs and carpets. Forty six km away is Guamote, with its rich artisan production of wool and natural fiber. Another textile and ceramics center is Alausí. Two hours away from theRiobamba, the town boasts a high level of commercial activity.


Ethnic Groups

Several distinct indigenous groups all live in the Andean region. The Awá is Carchi’s most prominent group. The Tsáschilas inhabit vast regions in both Pichincha and in Manabí. The Quichuas, the Andes largest single indigenous group, live primarily in the provinces of Imbabura, Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, and Bolívar. The major sub-groups of the Quichua are the Otavalos, Cayambes, Chibuleos, and Panzaleos. Of these groups, the Otavalos are the most well known, in Ecuador and internationally, due to their extensive textile industry.


| Important Towns | Historical Routes | Archeological Ruins |
| Indigenous Markets | Artisan Crafts | Ethnic Groups |

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