Quito: From the Monasterio to the Palacio de Gobierno

Saturday, 7 July (Part II)

As I noted in part I, the Celebrity tour of the Centro Histórico (historic center) was quite well done.  We’d already been to some of the places, but there were two stops before lunch that were new to us.  The first of these stops was Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco (Church and Monastery of St Francis), the first church to be built after the founding of the city in 1534 by the Spanish.  While it was officially inaugurated in 1605, it wasn’t until 1680 that construction was completed.

Built over the ruins of an Inca palace, El San Francisco overlooks a square by the same name.

We did not spend a whole lot of time outside, but were instead taken directly inside.  A shame because I liked the simpler — some might say austere — lines of the exterior.  Mui and I tried to step away from the group for a minute, but the ‘guard’ matched us step for step.  I know he was just doing his job, but it really was irritating, and IMHO, unnecessary.  In the end, feeling uncomfortable with being tailed, we gave up and went inside.

The only adornment on the façade is the rope belt
of St Francis, surrounding the window above
the entrance, the statues of St Peter and
St Paul, and  the figure of Christ above.

Glimpse of the two bell towers.
  The original towers were destroyed by the
pinchincha volcano when it erupted in 1893.
The towers were rebuilt at half the size.

Our first stop inside was the cloister, surrounded by covered arcades on all four sides.  Here, Rodrigo gave us some basic information about the church and the monastery, and pointed out some of the artwork on legarda,_bernardo_de_(virgen_de_quito)the walls.

Next, we were taken upstairs and through a narrow hall for a view of the interior of the church from the choir loft.  A service was in progress, so this was the extent of our visit inside the church.

The interior is truly spectacular, but we weren’t allowed to take pictures, and look as I might, I was unable to find any postcards either.  It would have been nice to at least find one of Bernardo de Legarda’s famed Virgin of the Apocalypse, the inspiration for the Virgen de Quito, which stands atop El Panecillo (post here).  I’m resorting to photos from the internet instead.  (It was OK to take photos around the monastery, however.)

View of the cloister from the wraparound balcony on the second floor.

An altar piece (left) in one corner of the cloister and a ceiling mural
are some of the Decorative elements we saw around the monastery.

One of several pieces of colonial period paintings on the walls of the cloister.

Amazing ceiling detail from one corner of the cloister.

One of several parakeets being kept by the monks.

A short walk down a side street took us to our next stop — Carondelet Palace, aka Palacio de Gobierno, the seat of government and the office of the president.  Although the history of the building dates back to 1570, the current palacio was built to honor Hector de Carondelet, the president of the Real Audience of Quito in 1801.


The Palacio is in the neo-classic style.
(I neglected to take a photo myself; hence this one from the internet.)

We didn’t go inside the building;  perhaps because President Correa was in his office.  How do we know he was there?  Rodrigo pointed out the flag of Ecuador, which was flying above the building, an apparent symbol of the president’s presence.

As we slowly made our way along the colonnade that overlooks Plaza Grande to the main entrance where two toy-soldier-look-alike guards stood, Rodrigo stopped at various markers honoring historic events, such as the arrival of Simon Bolivar following the 1822 Battle of Pinchincha, which secured Ecuador’s independence; and the 1875 assassination of President Garcia Moreno as he exited the cathedral (across the street from the palace) after his election to a third term in office.

The Tarqui Guards are dressed in the traditional 19th century uniforms of Gran Colombia,
the state that encompassed much of
northern South America and part of
southern Central America (1819-1831).

From behind wrought iron gates, we get a
glimpse of the main stairs in the courtyard,
and the Guayasamin mosaic mural depicting
the journey to explore the Amazon.

Of course we got our photo-op with one of the guards before we left the palacio.  Funny story — we asked one of our cruisemates to take a photo of us.  He did a good job of getting us in the picture, but cut off the guard’s head at the eyes :-)  Rodrigo obliged for a second shot at getting all three heads in the photograph!

Two to Travel’s photo-op with one of the Tarqui guards at the Palacio de Gobierno.

Our next stop was at the Independence Monument, located in the center of Plaza Grande.  The monument was installed in 1909 to celebrate 100 years of independence.  Some of its key features: a wounded lion representing the Spanish; a condor breaking free from the chains of oppression; and the Goddess Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom.

From here, we crossed the street to wait for the tour bus to pick us up and take us to lunch.  Rodrigo took the opportunity to explain about the arts and crafts of Ecuador, using a painting from one of the vendors as an example.  The guards allowed some local women who were selling scarves to approach; they did brisk business.  The going rate was two for $5; we did better at the Otavalo market.

The dying lion  represents the Spanish from whom Ecuador gained its independence.
Not easily visible, on the side of the lion is a small hole where once there was an arrow.
That arrow has since been stolen, so it looks like the lion was wounded by a bullet instead.

(to the left is the cathedral, and in the right corner is the presidential palace;
you can see the flag is flying to signifying that the president is in residence.)

Left: The Goddess Libertas stands atop the Independence Monument.
Right: This lovely girl was one of the vendors selling colorful scarves.

La Catedral is another grand building that overlooks Plaza Grande, but it’s not on
today’s tour; Mui and I will come back to check it out when we return from the Galápagos.

I already posted about lunch here, so the next entry will be be about our afternoon excursion and dinner.


  1. Lovely! This is so much fun.
    Guards are a new and unfortunate addition, likely a result of the city’s booming growth encouraging petty street crimes.

    1. Good to know there weren't always guards; perhaps there is hope that they'll be gone someday.

  2. Just getting around to catching up on your travels......great detail and beautiful photography. You could publish each installment into a good guidebook. I look forward to your photojournalism in the Galapagos.......

  3. Buildings over 300 years old is something we definitely don't have over here. What a treat!