25 November 2012
Culture of Quito
Sitting gracefully in an Andean valley, fringed by active volcanic peaks – Quito’s landscape alone is enough to leave you speechless. Old Town meets the New in the UNESCO protected capital of Ecuador, with a never ending list of things to do and see, with even the atmosphere leaving a lasting impression. The impressive Old Town and its alley ways are home to new experiences just waiting to be discovered by any discerning traveller. Then there’s New Town with its hip and vivacious lifestyle – bars and restaurants aplenty. Even though Quito has developed it certainly hasn’t forgotten its Ecuadorian charm, and that we believe can be seen with every turn you take as you meander through the cobbled city.
Quito has been given the nickname ‘Cultural Capital for Humanity’ because of its constant enthusiasm of the arts, which therefore take shape in all forms and venues. You can roam through specialised galleries such as La Galería to Karnak and then pop into Exedra Fundación, gazing with admiration of the artists who spend their lives creating these masterpieces.
However while walking and taking in the scenery and the Quiteños way of life you’ll be struck by the arts urban influence. Street art is evident in most areas of the city, decorating the walls, sign posts, sides of buildings (everywhere really) in bright colours and patterns. Like the framed gallery artists, these street artists are passionate about their talent, and want to expose it in a way which shows their opinions. They want to make a statement and grab our attention, and they certainly don’t fail.
Quito was named a ‘gem of human creative genius’ by UNESCO for its architecture and countless landmarks. Old Town is the city’s historic centre and proudly showcases this achievement with 17th-century cathedrals, picturesque plazas and snow-covered peaks that overlook the vibrant city in motion.
It received a spruce up in 2006 but gleams just as brightly from when it was awarded the first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site status in 1978. It was universally recognising the city ‘as a harmonious and sui generis ensemble, where the acts of man and nature have come together to create a transcendental work, unique in its category.’ The culture that exudes this city is unmissable. The inviting local people and the beautiful way of life – it’s enough to make you rethink your 9-5 surroundings.
South America is world renowned for their party spirit and Quito is no exception in this. They enjoy countless celebrations through the year, from the bullfights at the Plaza de Toros, their own carnival to the religious festival of Semana Santa which begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday. But no celebration involves the whole city quite like Fiestas de Quito.
Fiestas de Quito is to mark the Spanish discovery of Quito in 1534. The official holiday is the 6th December (the day the Spanish arrived) but the party commences on November 30th making it a week-long of festivities. The first night is kicked off in a big way. Locals (and visitors) take over the streets, bars practically swing open their doors for party-goers, and the streets will remain crowded till the early hours of the morning. One of the most popular traditions on this night is to ride around the city in a chiva. It’s an open air bus, with a brass band on top, you sit (and seriously hold on) while you cruise around weaving in and out of the revellers.
The rest of the week continues with dozens of concerts, beauty pageants, competitions and bull fighting featuring the best matadors around. It’s a celebration that involves everyone in the culture of Quito and how it was established. They celebrate their heritage and encourage you to be part of it. It climaxes on the 6th December with a massive parade.
You descend to the streets again where there are indigenous dancers in traditional dress and floats make their way along the streets. We are accustomed as spectators to watch behind a metal gate, but there are no such rules here as people pile onto the streets, because everyone is part of Fiestas de Quito. It is organised chaos – the best kind.
Words by Prudence Patterson