Independence Square: Ecuador’s centre of power

Ecuador travelogue: Chapter 15 | Read other chaptersSee photo gallery

Start your tour of Quito’s old town from this historic public square and independence monument.

↑ Quito is the currently reining “Cultural capital of America” – a sign displayed in the plaza.

Plaza Grande

↑ Monument to the independence heroes of August 10, 1809, a date remembered as the First Cry of Independence of Quito from Spanish monarchy.

The Spanish started constructing a colonial district in Quito and as with typical colonial urban design, a city plaza was built at it’s centre in the 16th century. For several centuries after that, this square had nothing but a fountain and empty space around. In the 18th century, the plaza was landscaped to appear as extended gardens of the Presidential palace. Several decades ago the central plaza was reformed to it’s current state.

The square is flanked by the Carondelet Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Municipal Palace and the Archbishop’s Palace + the Plaza Grande Hotel to it’s west, south, east and north sides respectively.

In my opinion, this is a very appropriate place to start touring the UNESCO awarded colonial quarter of Quito. This plaza was among the first sites to be constructed by the colonialists and has some of Quito’s most important buildings around it. Therefore I chose it as the zero coordinate for my trip (you know, the point from which everything begins).

President’s Palace (Palacio de Carondelet)

↑ President’s palace, flanking the western edge of the plaza.

This building is the seat of government of the Republic of Ecuador and was constructed in 1801. Back in the day, it had steps descending to the plaza, but now it’s a paved street.

Ecuador’s flag at the entrance and inside the banquet hall. The flag consists of horizontal bands of yellow (double width), blue and red with a coat of arms in the middle. When you enter the palace, you are expected to salute to the flag as stated on the carpet.

Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s president since 2007 and a guy that everyone adores, converted the presidential compound into a museum that was open to the public. The Carondelet Palace and its agencies were declared Ecuadoran heritages. I think the building has a neat and practical design, and it’s wonderful that the President of Ecuador lets people into his palace. Not many presidential palaces are open to the public.

Inside the Presidential palace. All visitors get a souvenir with their picture inside the palace.

The Cathedral

↑ The principal cathedral of Ecuador, occupying the southern block of the plaza

The Cathedral of Quito (La Catedral de Quito) is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Quito, thus making it administratively the most important temple in Ecuador. After the Spanish conquered Quito and executed the Incan king Rumiñahui, they promptly established Roman Catholicism and began the construction of a stately cathedral next to the newly built central square. This church is considered to be one of the oldest cathedrals in South America.

Other buildings around the central square

↑ Eastern edge of the plaza: Quito’s Municipal palace (newly constructed, with mediocre architecture).

Hotel Plaza Grande is a five-star luxury hotel on the north side of the plaza, next to the Archbishop’s Palace. It is located in a restored Spanish colonial mansion, which formerly belonged to one of the earliest colonial inhabitants of Quito and is the only privately owned building around the main square.

Hotel Plaza Grande and guard outside the president’s palace.

Logistics of getting here

The Trole-bus rapid transit line passes through the heart of the colonial district. Four stations – Hermano Miguel, Teatro Sucre, Plaza Grande and Santo Domingo – serve this part of town but the one closest to the Grand plaza is the aptly named Plaza Grande station. If you are coming from the north or central part of Quito, get off at this station, turn to your right and walk one block to reach the plaza.

Evenings are great for relaxing here and the plaza is very safe. Lots of people, meaning lots of photo opportunities, hang out here with their friends and families while random hawkers walk around carrying their wares. I love Latin American city squares.