Latacunga, the city of Mashcas


- Publicidad -spot_img

Text: Ana Cristina Espinosa

As you drive the highway that pushes its eight lanes forth, through the Andes to the south, the glorious Cotopaxi looks down upon you, posing proudly as the highest active volcano in the world. Shortly after, the signs seem to scream out that we’ve arrived at Cotopaxi’s capital. Latacunga, LATACUNGA… this must be an important little town.

Latacunga is legendary. Mount Cotopaxi witnessed her birth. And so, we are told, decided to protect her against everything… including himself. That is why Latacunga is still with us today, despite having witnessed multiple and ferocious eruptions. Instead of frightening her with volcanic thunder, Cotopaxi lulls her to sleep; instead of freezing her with his snow, he protects her from the cold northern winds; and gives her, in abundant generosity, four healthy rivers. How else can we explain that Latacunga is still the second city with the largest number of preserved Colonial buildings in the country? One could easily stroll through Latacunga with a map drawn centuries ago, drafted even before the most terrible of volcanic eruptions, and not get lost.

Its cheerful and familiar atmosphere reveals intellectual, historical and cultural wealth that distinguishes Latacunga from other provincial capitals. This is why Latacunga was declared, in 1982, an Ecuadorian Cultural Heritage Site. It is flooded by the hybrid-like essence of a layered world, an established identity that dates back to before the brief domination of the Incas and continues through to the subsequent European colonization. Its “pasajes“, tiny cobblestone alleyways full of history, are indisputable windows into a Colonial past that surprise those who decide to wander the streets, and are, today, a source of local pride and an invitation for the curious to explore. Tacunga, which comes from the Quichua term llactaca cunani (“I entrust my land to you”), was a strategic point of agricultural production (potatoes, barley, maize, wheat, grains), during Colonial times. Such was the reputation that even today Latacungueños are popularly known as mashcas (from the Quichua machka or máchica, roasted barley flour).

Its multiple access routes are highly characteristic. Each road, bridge or path is connected to this perfect chessboard of a town, a typical urban structure of the Spanish colonies that has been preserved for centuries. The starting point of it all is Vicente León Park, at the very heart of the Historic Center. A place that invites you to spend a sunny afternoon feeling the mountain breeze; a place that stands out for its Colonial ambience, with a very particular sense of space difficult to find in other Ecuadorian plazas. It bears the name of the man featured on its central monument, an illustrious 18th-century Latacunga native who held important political and economic positions and founded the nearby school. Important national figures (including three Ecuadorian presidents) attended the institution. Around the park, rise the city’s fundamental buildings. The Municipal Palace inspires astonishment as the only building in the world to be built and carved in pumice stone. And in another corner, the wonderful Cathedral Church rises, a new, and impressive construction (don’t hesitate to peer into its spectacular inner courtyard).

An embarrassment of churches

Over the centuries, religious orders kept arriving in town, sent to evangelize and educate the natives. Such a concentration may reveal the strength of native identity in this part of the country when the colonists arrived. Once the urban plans of the city were drafted, founded prior, even, to Quito, strategic points were established, first by Franciscans and Augustinians, who built their churches: beautiful San Agustín, San Felipe and San Francisco (its stone façade reveals its antiquity, as one of the region’s oldest buildings). Later came the Jesuits, Mercedarians, Dominicans and Carmelites, seeing to the construction of their temples.

What truly characterizes these picturesque buildings is the faith they conjure, for despite the constant volcanic eruptions and earthquakes that have struck the city, they stand proud, bearing their scars, and revealing an unwaveringly resolve to stand the test of time. The church of Santo Domingo, besides displaying wonderful paintings and exceptional carving in gold leaf, was the site of Latacunga’s Declaration of Independence from Spain. The Dominican San Sebastían Church, found outside of the Historic Center, turns its square into a street fair on Saturdays, while emanating peace throughout its picturesque neighborhood with its stature on other days. La Merced honors, with its washed turquoise eilings, Our Lady of Mercy, the patron saint of volcanoes, who is said to have protected Latacunga from devastating eruptions and is the main reason the city celebrates the emblematic festivities of Mama Negra in September.

Talent and good taste

Latacunga is all about its chugchucara dives and cafeterías and bakeries selling queso de hoja cheese and allullas. In addition, you can also venture to the beautiful Pasaje de Santa Teresa, and find places to eat, grab a drink, or hang out. Mercado del Salto is a tecni-color market that offers, apart from textiles, food and produce of all kinds, the essence of it all, on the second floor, in a tight corner: delicious tortillas of palo corn patties and the traditional chaguarmishque (agave extract).

Latacunga is also home to an important culture of fine craftmanship. To seek out one of the most emblematic products in town, take the Panamericana towards Salcedo. Before leaving the city, in the neighborhood of El Niagara, a simple adobe home displays its baskets on the sidewalk. Fabiola and Blanca kindly attend to those who come see their work. The store, although small, is charming. They explain their procedures, materials, weaving techniques… The workshop displays a series of items from handbags made with mocora (a kind of wicker), to totora mats, pottery, utensils, and even the classic Andean stone mortar, pieces that deserve to be include in Ecuador’s fascinating collection of handmade gems.

Must visit

Casa de los Marqueses de Miraflores: Full of mystery and charm, this house located near Pasaje de Santa Teresa is 250 years old and standing.

Museo de la Casa de la Cultura / Molinos de Monserrat: A mill built in the 18th century by the Jesuits alongside the Cutuchi and Yanayacu rivers… cross the bridge to the Museum (it houses a varied collection of pre-Hispanic artifacts and local folk art.

Parque Ignacio Flores: A park with a lake inside it, ideal for a romantic walk.

Probably the best restaurant suggestion in town is El Gringo y la Gorda for excellent, large-portion sandwiches, located in the picturesque Pasaje Tovar, in front of Plaza Vicente León.

Artículos Relacionados

- Publicidad -

Artículos Recientes

- Publicidad -

También podría interesarte
Recomendado para ti