History of Quito

Brief history of Quito summarized

In this article we deal with the history of Quito, in a brief and summarized way.

Pre-Columbian Quito

Quito occupies a temperate and fertile plateau (2,800 meters above sea level) in the Andes Mountains. It has a good climate and has been occupied by people for a long time.

The first settlers were the Quitu: they were finally subjugated by the Caras culture. Sometime in the 15th century, the city and region were conquered by the mighty Inca Empire, based in Cuzco to the south. Quito prospered under the Inca and soon became the second most important city in the Empire.

The Inca Civil War

Quito plunged into civil war around 1526. The Inca ruler Huayna Capac died (possibly of smallpox) and two of his many sons, Atahualpa and Huáscar, began fighting over his empire.

Atahualpa had the support of Quito, while Huáscar’s power base was in Cuzco. More importantly for Atahualpa, he had the support of three powerful Inca generals: Quisquis, Chalcuchima, and Rumiñahui.

Atahualpa prevailed in 1532 after his forces defeated Huáscar at the gates of Cuzco. Huáscar was captured and later executed by order of Atahualpa.

The Conquest of Quito

In 1532 the Spanish conquistadors arrived under Francisco Pizarro and took Atahualpa captive. Atahualpa was executed in 1533, which made Quito an unconquerable city against the Spanish invaders, as Atahualpa was still very much loved there.

Two different conquest expeditions converged on Quito in 1534, led by Pedro de Alvarado and Sebastián de Benalcázar respectively. The people of Quito were tough warriors and fought the Spanish every step of the way, most notably at the Battle of Teocajas.

Benalcázar arrived first and discovered that Quito had been razed to the ground by General Rumiñahui out of spite for the Spanish. Benalcázar was one of the 204 Spaniards who formally established Quito as a Spanish city on December 6, 1534, a date that is still celebrated in Quito today.

Quito in colonial times

Quito prospered during colonial times. Various religious orders arrived, including the Franciscans, Jesuits, and Augustinians, and built elaborate churches and convents. The city became a center of the Spanish colonial administration.

In 1563 it became a Royal Audience under the supervision of the Spanish Viceroy in Lima: this meant that there were judges in Quito who could decide on legal proceedings. Later, the administration of Quito would pass to the Viceroyalty of New Granada in present-day Colombia.

The Quito School of Art

During colonial times, Quito became known for the high-quality religious art produced by the artists who lived there. Under the tutelage of the Franciscan Jodoco Ricke, Quitan students began to produce high-quality works of art and sculpture in the 1550s: the “Escuela de Arte de Quito” would eventually acquire very specific and unique characteristics.

Quito art is characterized by syncretism: that is, a mixture of Christian and indigenous themes. Some paintings show Christian figures in Andean landscapes or following local traditions: a famous painting in Quito’s cathedral shows Jesus and his disciples eating guinea pigs (a traditional Andean food) at the Last Supper.

The movement of August 10

In 1808, Napoleon invaded Spain, captured the King and put his own brother on the throne. Spain was thrown into turmoil: a competing Spanish government was established and the country was at war with itself.

Hearing the news, a group of concerned citizens of Quito staged a rebellion on August 10, 1809, seizing control of the city and informing Spanish colonial officials that they would rule Quito independently until the King of Spain was restored..

The Viceroy in Peru responded by sending an army to crush the rebellion: the August 10 conspirators were thrown into a dungeon. On August 2, 1810, the people of Quito tried to escape: the Spanish repelled the attack and massacred the detained conspirators.

This ghastly episode would help keep Quito largely out of the struggle for independence in northern South America. Quito was finally liberated from the Spanish on May 24, 1822, in the Battle of Pichincha: among the heroes of the battle were Marshal Antonio José de Sucre and local heroine Manuela Sáenz.

The republican Era

After independence, Ecuador was initially part of the Republic of Gran Colombia: the republic fell apart in 1830 and Ecuador became an independent nation under the first president Juan José Flores.

Quito continued to flourish, although it remained a relatively small and sleepy provincial town. The biggest conflicts of the time were between liberals and conservatives. Simply put, the Conservatives preferred a strong central government, limited voting rights (only wealthy men of European descent), and a strong connection between church and state.

The Liberals were just the opposite: they preferred stronger regional governments, universal (or at least expanded) suffrage, and no connection between church and state. This conflict often turned bloody: conservative president Gabriel García Moreno (1875) and former liberal president Eloy Alfaro (1912) were assassinated in Quito.

The Modern Era of Quito

Quito has continued to grow slowly and has evolved from a quiet provincial capital to a modern metropolis. It has experienced occasional unrest, such as during the turbulent presidencies of José María Velasco Ibarra (five administrations between 1934 and 1972).

In recent years, the people of Quito have occasionally taken to the streets to successfully oust unpopular presidents such as Abdalá Bucaram (1997), Jamil Mahuad (2000), and Lúcio Gutiérrez (2005). These protests were peaceful for the most part and Quito, unlike many other Latin American cities, has not seen violent civil unrest in some time.

Quito’s Historic center

Perhaps because it spent so many centuries as a sleepy provincial town, Quito’s old colonial center is particularly well preserved. It was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1978.

Colonial churches stand side by side with elegant republican houses in spacious plazas. Quito has recently invested heavily in restoring what locals call “the historic center” and the results are impressive. Elegant theaters like the Teatro Sucre and the Teatro México are open and offer concerts, plays and even, occasionally, opera.

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