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History of Quito

Pre-Inca Civilization

Despite its high altitude and scarcity of easily cultivable land, the area around Quito has been the scene of human settlement for nearly 10,000 years, dating back to the Quitu (who gave the city its name), Cara, Shyri and Puruhá indigenous groups. Due to its central location, Quito flourished as a permanent commercial trading center, or tianguez, for the peoples residing in the Amazon basin, the sierra and on the coast. The merchants traded products like salt, cotton and shells from the coast for cinnamon, medicinal herbs and precious metals from the Amazon region. Traders from the sierra sold potatoes, corn and other agricultural products native to the area.

Inca Rule

Those early inhabitants of Quito fiercely resisted the Inca invasion of the late 15th century; however, after more than a decade of fighting, Quito fell to Inca rule under Túpac Yupanqui and became an important part of his empire. Túpac Yupanqui’s son, Huayna Capac, was born near Quito, making him the first Inca ruler to be born outside the confines of Cusco. A generation later, Atahualpa, one of Huayna Capac’s sons, used Quito as his capital during his war against his brother. No architectural evidence of the pre-Columbian city remains, however, because it was destroyed by the Inca general Rumiñahui to keep it out of the hands of the Spanish conquistadors.

Spanish Rule

Colonial officials rebuilt Quito in the style of a Spanish city, featuring a grid of narrow streets dotted with public squares, still largely intact today as the city’s Centro Histórico. While it remained a compact city, colonial Quito was the capital of an administrative district larger than present-day Ecuador. The city also made an enormous contribution to the arts of the Spanish empire. Originally used as a means of inculcating the indigenous inhabitants of the region into Christianity, religious painting and sculpture flourished in the city. The so-called “Quito School” of the 17th and 18th centuries was marked by the use of dramatic, often quite gruesome, images to depict Biblical stories. Many of these works can still be viewed in Quito’s art museums and colonial churches.

Over time, Quito’s native-born population chafed under the rule of the Spanish crown. This frustration resulted in the quiteños’ declaration for independence in 1809. Quito’s - and Ecuador’s - independence from Spain was sealed on the slopes of Volcán Pichincha, high above the city, when José Antonio de Sucre’s army defeated the Spanish garrison on May 24, 1822. Today, the site of the battle is commemorated by the military museum La Cima de la Libertad.

1869 - Present

In 1869, President Gabriel García Moreno altered the constitution to make Catholicism the official state religion of Ecuador and required all voters and political candidates to be Catholic. The liberal opposition despised him for this, especially the self-exiled writer Juan Montalvo. Shortly after he began his third term, Moreno was attacked on the steps of the Palacio de Gobierno and hacked to death by a machete-wielding assassin in 1875. When Montalvo heard of Moreno's death, he proclaimed, “My pen has killed him!”

The conservatives continued their reign in the country, especially under the dictator General Ignacio de Veintimilla. Conservative rule ended in 1897 with the election of Eloy Alfaro. He was a revolutionary and fought against GarcĂ­a Moreno's government during his youth. During his two terms as president, from 1897 to 1901 and 1906 to 1911, Alfaro separated church and state, severed ties with the Vatican, instituted divorce, and kicked out foreign clergy. He also helped complete the Quito-Guayaquil railway. In between terms, Alfaro's adversary General LeĂłnidas Plaza became president. Plaza caused civil unrest amongst conservative Catholics and liberals and Alfaro's second term saw nearly half of the budget go towards the military for security reasons and fear of an uprising.

Civil war broke out when Alfaro's successor, Emilio Estrada, died shortly after his inauguration in 1911. Plaza's forces proceeded to defeat and kill Alfaro and his supporters, dragging them through the streets of Quito and finally burning their corpses at the Parque El Ejido.

Leonidas Plaza's son, Galo Plaza Lasso, became president in 1948. He had strong ties to both Liberal and Conservative parties, and strongly advocated democracy and freedom of speech, which caused him to become the first Ecuadorian president to serve a full term since 1924. The banana boom in the 1940s helped fund Quito's undertaking of new schools, an airport, hospitals and universities. It was also during this time, following the Second World War, that Quito expanded dramatically. The wealthy abandoned the Centro Histórico for new neighborhoods farther north. Meanwhile, the difficulty of earning a living through agriculture and the availability of jobs in the city lured many people from the countryside to settle in the Quito’s poorer neighborhoods, a migration which continues to this day. It was later, in the 1970s, that saw the oil boom transform Quito into the second most important financial center in the country.

By 1991, the population of the city hit one million; and as the population began approaching two million in the new millennium, Quito implemented the Metrobus (Ecovia) which currently facilitates the commute across the city from north to south. In 2005 the renovation of La Mariscal - which was formerly considered a zona roja (red-light district) - saw the creation of new bars, cafes, hostels and restaurants.

2013 welcomed the new, larger airport for the city located on its outskirts to the east – an idea which took nearly 50 years to come to fruition.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Quito: Centro HistĂłrico Hotels, Quito's Weather and Climate, Education for Kids and Teenagers, Maid Services In Quito, Pico y Placa, Centro Historico Churches & Museums, Hiking Around Quito, Safety, Medical and Long-term Accommodation in Quito.

25 Feb 2013

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