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Quito’s historic center: Open-air museum home to host of treasures

Quito, Jul 29 (EFE).- An open-air museum whose walls and narrow streets have witnessed countless historical events and developments dating back centuries, the Ecuadorian capital’s Old Town boasts a range of architectural, archaeological and artistic treasures among its tourist offerings.

Those riches are apparent in the buildings of that colonial center but also in its museums, some located within imposing complexes and others in more modest structures whose small doors are gateways to more unknown aspects of its past.

“Quito is a great open-air exhibit of art history and universal architecture,” Fabian Amores, director-general of the Mediarte cultural collective, told Efe of the amalgam of styles that reflect the different historical, architectural and artistic periods of that city, which was declared a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 1978.

Although the origins of the so-called Luz de America (Light of America) date back long before the Spanish conquest, the successive European trends and influences that arrived starting in the 16th century were the catalyst for many locally produced works of colonial religious art.

The museum of the Church and Convent of St. Francis is one of the foremost storehouses of these paintings from the 17th to the 19th centuries, including works by members of the famed artists and sculptors of the Quito School, such as Miguel de Santiago, Manuel Chili (Caspicara) and Bernardo de Legarda.

The latter’s masterpiece, a wooden sculpture known as the “Virgin of Quito” (1734), is situated at the main altar of the church of that 3.5-hectare (8.6-acre) complex, which was built over the course of more than a century.

Another of that museum’s major works is one by an unknown artist this is known as “La negacion de Pedro” (Denial of Peter), a pair of sculptures whose heads were formed over human skulls.

In addition to appreciating its impressive art collection, tourists also can tour the monastery’s two main cloisters, choir, bell towers and ancient brewery.

“We’re a living museum. Tourists not only have the experience of visiting museum spaces. They also can get a sense of the daily life of the (Franciscan) friars,” its director, Pablo Rodriguez, said.

Just a few blocks away is the Carmen Alto Museum, which is housed in a Discalced Carmelite monastery (open to the public since 2013) and features a collection of around 3,000 items that include paintings, sculptures, textiles, documents, books and musical instruments.

One of its most prized works is “The Dormition of the Virgin,” a life-sized 18th-century wooden sculpture that consists of 17 figures representing the Virgin Mary, the 12 apostles, two angels and two of the Virgin Mary’s cousins, Nataly Alban, the supervisor of the museum’s guides, told Efe.

Other cultural repositories are located at the foot of the iconic Virgin of El Panecillo, which is located at the top of a loaf-shaped hill and is Quito’s most recognizable symbol, including the Museum of Colonial Art and the Sucre House, which is dedicated to the memory of South American independence hero Antonio Jose de Sucre.

The nearby Alberto Mena Caamaño Art and History Museum is known for its wax recreation of the event that sparked the independence movement in Ecuador and, perhaps, all of Latin America: the Aug. 2, 1810, massacre by loyalist troops of a group of jailed rebels in Quito.

The Museum of the City, which served as a hospital for 400 years; and the Antiguo Circulo Militar Palace, a small-sized replica of the Palace of Versailles that was built in 1917, are two other attractions of a district that UNESCO calls the “best-preserved, least-altered historic center in Latin America.” EFE


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