I’d never before received a photo of myself in the garden of a presidential palace, accompanied by a printed note from the president welcoming me to the capital, but that is exactly what I got when I visited the palace in Quito, Ecuador. Officially Carandolet Palace, it’s also known as the presidential palace, or the governmental palace, and it’s where former presidents have lived and worked.
President Rafael Correa converted it into a museum open to the public in 2007, and all you need to do to get in is to show up early enough in the day to get a free ticket. I got a little hassle because I only had a photocopy of my passport rather than the actual document, but eventually the guards let it slide. You pass your things through a scanner and walk through a metal detector, and then you’re given a little pass that says you’re on the tour.
The tour was entirely in Spanish, and I caught maybe 20% of it before tuning out and just admiring the lavish setting. As far as I can tell, the building is an oft-reconstructed colonial one from the 16th century, with major renovations done by Baron de Carondelet in the early 19th century. Simon Bolívar named it Carondelet Palace when he saw it after liberation in 1822.
The front hall is dominated by a huge mosaic detailing war between the indigenous people and the Spanish, underneath quotes about the noble sacrifice of the people at the hands of the conquerors. It’s a striking piece, made by none other than Guayasamín.
We passed through grand rooms befitting a presidential palace, including a comically long dining room table. We stood on the same balcony that Correa stands on every week he’s in town for the changing of the guard. We saw the many, many items that he’s received from various nations while in office. I bet all heads of state get gifts like these–oversized keys to cities, tasseled medallions, traditional crafts–but you never really get a chance to see them, do you? I liked that part.
Finally, we saw the giant room used for important press conferences. The ballroom is lined with portraits of past presidents, and it’s interesting to see how many there were in a few periods, when the country was undergoing change. There was also some truly magnificent facial hair going on in those 19th century portraits.
The tour of the palace took maybe 45 minutes, and when it was over we collected the official photos of ourselves standing in the palace grounds, and then we left via the long portico and down the steps, back to the plaza of the people.