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April 08th, 2015

Historical places: Calle la Ronda, Quito

Mary Anne

By Mary Anne Nelson
Travel Consultants

It has the reputation of being the oldest street in Quito and it certainly has the credentials to prove it. Nowadays a quaint, cobblestoned street covering just a couple of city blocks, the Calle de la Ronda started as a footpath leading to the Pichincha river where people washed their clothes or bathed in pre-Incan times. With the Spanish Colonia, and due to this ideal location near the river, it became a sought-after address by the city’s wealthier citizens and after the Conquistadores left, leaving behind a legacy of art and architecture, this little street became the lively heart of the city.

In the early 1900s, La Ronda was known as the Bohemian centre of Quito, where artisans, poets, singers, musicians, painters, writers and intellectuals lived and worked; a thriving scene famous for its cabarets and bars, some of them underground. A famous establishment during the 1930s was “El Murcielagario” (the bat place), located in the basement of a grocery store, to which you could only gain entrance by giving the password (which was, incidentally, Comandante).

By the 1980s, however, the street was in frank decline, if not total collapse. Some old residents blame this decay on the construction of a bus terminal nearby which attracted some unsavoury types to the area. Whatever the reason, by the end of the century, it was infamously known as one of the most dangerous spots of the city with drug dealers and prostitutes trolling along its old stones and avoided by all those with some sense.

But things changed again and, following a careful restoration project in 2006, the street is now back to its former glory, with solid stones entryways and wide stone steps contrasting with delicate ironwork and alive with music, art and creativity. A group of traditional craftspeople have moved to the neighbourhood and opened their workshops to visitors, allowing you to buy directly from them; you will find traditional toys, a chocolatier, piano and violin makers, old-school silversmiths, traditional Panama hats and handmade toys, street performances and live music, little restaurants selling traditional Ecuadorian food and canelazos - a warm, sweet, spicy, cider-like drink with a bit of booze to keep you warm – La Ronda is now a safe and friendly place to be.

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