Quito’s attractions commonly bring to mind only the city’s extraordinary historical centre and its treasures of colonial art. However, Quito’s history stretches much further…before the Spanish conquest and even many centuries before to the arrival of the Incas.
In the midst of the modern city one can find vestiges of Pre-Hispanic cultures. Explore this fascinating face of Quito!
La Florida burial chambers
Intricate burial chambers found 15-17 meters (49-56 ft) deep reveal important information about Quito’s antique settlers (200–640 AD). They have been excavated and turned into a museum by the city’s FONSAL organization (Heritage Safe-Guarding Fund created by the Municipality of Metropolitan District of Quito www.fonsal.gov.ec) and its team of archaeologists and architects.
La Florida museum is located in northern Quito, on the eastern side of the Pichincha Volcano. To date, FONSAL has excavated 10 burial chambers 15 to 17 metres deep. The funeral architecture reflects the cosmovision of the Quitus: the bodies of the dead were given back to Mother Earth’s womb. Large amounts of amazing ceramics, fine jewellery, gold ornaments, wood carvings, spondylus and other shells, were found in the chambers, alongside hundreds of bodies.
The chambers date back to 220–640 AD and belong to the Quitus culture. The museum occupies a small piece of land that used to be part of a large hacienda, with a great view of the city of Quito–on a clear day; it is possible to see the Cayambe volcano. The museum was inaugurated in July, 2009. This place makes excellent use of modern techniques of architecture and museology to recover the charm of archaeological finds.
In order to present the archaeological findings in a didactic and dynamic manner, FONSAL has reproduced one of the burial chambers with 16 bodies and its respective ritual objects. The replicas of the bodies’ faces were carried out by experts in “forensic medicine” techniques. The results are startlingly life-like. Moreover,a remote-controlled robot with a video camera reproduces images from the original walls of one of the burial chambers on a screen so that visitors can admire the traces of the original structure.
The complex includes a small museum that exhibits original objects found in the burial chambers. Some of the most impressive pieces are the spondylus shell ponchos, these were worn only by people with hierarchical importance.
Opening hours: Wednesdays-Sundays from 8:00 to 16:30
Address: Calle Antonio Costa, between Román and Fernando Corral St., at the San Vicente de La Florida neighborhood in Northern Quito. (The entrance is by Avenida Occidental / Mariscal Sucre, at the West of the city).
Rumipamba archaeological and ecological park
The most antique stone walls found in Quito are those of Rumipamba Park, a 32-hectare complex located in a former private hacienda, now in the heart of the city of Quito. The walls date back to 400 AD. “Rumi” means stone and “pamba” pampas or plains. Rumipamba has some huge stones from the last important eruption of the nearby Guagua Pichincha volcano, which took place in 1660.
The pre-Incan stone walls found in Rumipamba are believed to have supported some kind of ritual structure. Rumipamba also includes vestiges of villages that date back to the Integration Period (500-1500 AD); and ceramic pieces of diverse origin. Some of ceramic remains found at the site, date back to the Late Formative Period (1500-500 BC), but most belong to the Integration Period. A lot of these are from cultures in the Coast. It is believed that these ceramics were brought as offerings to the volcano, perhaps during the periods when the location was abandoned due to the volcano eruptions.
The Rumipamba Park includes a gully that has become a niche for flora and fauna, especially birds. Several flora species including trees, medicinal plants, fruits and others, are found inside the park. It also includes a “culunco”, which is an antique road connecting the highlands with the coast for the commercialization of products. These roads date back to the “Yumbo” culture, a pre-Incan civilization that inhabited the cloud forests surrounding Quito.
Opening hours: Wednesdays - Sundays from 8:00 to 16:30
Address: between Occidental, América and Mariana de Jesús Avenues, at the North-West of the city.
The Sacred Valley of Tulipe is found 70 km (43 miles) Northwest of Quito. It was an important ceremonial site for the Yumbo people, who inhabited the north and northwestern valleys and mountains around Quito from around 800 to 1660 AD. It’s thought that the Yumbo people migrated to the Amazon after a great eruption of the Pichincha Volcano in 1660, and this theory is currently being investigated.
Although disregarded by the Spanish chroniclers and subsequent historians, the site at Tulipe, as well as the 2,000 pyramids and mounds now unearthed, point to an important nation. It’s thought that it controlled this crucial trade route between the Pacific coast, the Andes and the Amazon to the east.
The remains at Tulipe suggest it was the civilization’s main ceremonies site. It is made up of eight structures, one of which is of Incan construction. Water played a primordial role at Tulipe, with many pools reflecting its ceremonial importance.
The “Yumbo People Interpretation Centre” was inaugurated in 2007. It houses didactic information and it is the starting point for the future investigation of the geometric mounds, paths, cemeteries, petro glyphs and swimming pools which abound in the area.
For more information:
Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday from 9:00 to 16:00
Address: On the main Calacali-La Independencia road, which heads Northwest from Quito, take the signposted road on the right soon after the small town of Nanegalito.
Prices: $3 adults and foreigners.