Founded in 1548 by Alonso de Mercadillo, Loja is somewhat of a political and cultural island, surrounded by mountains and stranded at the far southern end of Ecuador. Besides being the provincial capital, Loja warrants recognition as the first city in Ecuador to generate electricity (1897). Today, Loja is an intellectually and architecturally unique city, boasting two universities set among a peculiar mix of urban concrete and colonial structures.
Approximately 500 meters (1,640 ft) lower than most southern cities, Loja enjoys noticeably warmer weatherâ€”an appropriate complement to its congenial cultural climate and exuberant atmosphere. There is a lot to see and do in Loja. Situated around the sprawling palm-tree studded central park are a number of interesting buildings, including the Cathedral, Casa de Justicia, which houses the Museo del Banco Central, and the modern Municipal Building, with its pleasant courtyard and vibrant murals, which play out various indigenous scenes. Beyond the park, further south along BolĂvar from the Iglesia Santo Domingo, is the Plaza de la Independencia, where the citizens of Loja gathered on November 18, 1820, to denounce the Spanish Crown and assert their independence. Perhaps the most attractive section of the city, the square is enlivened by the brightly painted facades of colonial-style buildings, and neatly framed by resplendent hills rising in the distance.