Saturday, 23 November 2013

Snapshot of Quito Old Town

In Quito's Old Town religion is everywhere, including this strange neo-Gothic cathedral that was conceived in the final decades of the 19th century. It sits on top of a hill and commands the heights beneath which people lived -and still do live. But to see the real treasures go down the hill to the narrow streets where you can see an extraordinary counter-Reformation church that is absolutely covered in arabesques and curliqueues, saints and other decoration relevant to the 17th century, which was when a lot of the then-centre of town was built.

There is a gigantic central square bordered along one side by the huge 16th century church and monastery of St Francis, which began to be constructed in 1550, less than a generation after the city of Quito was founded by the Spanish.

The Old Town is still occupied and it is still used for routine commerce, although business signs all use the same size font so as to mute their appearance to suit the architectural environment. The streets are narrow, making transport a bit difficult. But they are all rectilinear, revealing the need for order imposed by the people who originally laid them out. And they are integrated with the routes of the larger city of 2.2 million people: you can get on a trolley car in the Old Town if you want to travel back up the city to the newer centres around the Mariscal or Parque La Carollina.

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