You Are Cordially Invited to the Presidential Palace

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.

The building takes up a whole city block

The building takes up a whole city block

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.

Official

Official

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.

View of the cathedral from the balcony

View of the cathedral from the balcony

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.

Guayasamin's mural

Guayasamin’s mural

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.

Just a little family gathering for dinner

Just a little family gathering for dinner

Some of Correa's gifts from other nations

Some of Correa’s gifts from other nations

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 faces of the past

The faces of the past

My favorite mustache of the lot

My favorite mustache of the lot (oops, blurrier than I’d thought)

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.

 

The official shot

The official shot

Pomp and Circumstance: Just Another Monday in Quito

Credit to my tour group leader for never letting on; the surprise was part of the fun. The school I’m attending for the next two weeks had orientation on Monday, and one of the day’s activities was a short tour of some sights in the colonial center of the city. Six of us new students crammed onto the bus with our genial guide, and tumbled out twenty minutes later for a short walk to the Plaza Grande, the most important plaza in Quito. When we arrived, we were surprised to encounter a partially roped-off square, a booming sound system announcing something, and a crowd of enthusiastic Ecuadorians and tourists. What’s going on? Oh, just an elaborate changing of the guard presided over by the president himself, that’s all.

The crowd assembled for the changing of the guard

The crowd assembled for the changing of the guard

President Correa (my zoom doing what it can next to a streetlight)

President Correa (my zoom doing what it can next to a streetlight)

Had I consulted my guidebook more closely I might have known that this is a regular event. Every Monday that President Rafael Correa is in the city, he oversees a changing of the guard at 11am. It’s a lot of pomp for a weekly event, but I love it; the locals in the crowd enthusiastically sing the national anthem as the flag is raised over the presidential palace, everyone starts their week off with a little ceremony and national pride, and it’s not bad for tourism either.

March of the guard, dressed in uniforms like those who fought for independence in the early 19th century

March of the guard, dressed in uniforms like those who fought for independence in the early 19th century

A large crowd turned out

A large crowd turned out

A band stood at the center of the square, by the fountain, and guards marched on foot and trotted on horseback to surround the band while they played the national anthem. The president and his family stood at the balcony, along with others who I assume are officials and friends. An army man in full fatigues and machine gun stood discreetly to the side, a reminder that only a few years ago, Correa had to be rescued from a life-threatening near-coup.

At least three different types of policing presence

At least three different types of policing presence

The blocked-off street in front of the palace

The blocked-off street in front of the palace

The plaza was crowded when we arrived a little after 11am, so we didn’t get a good position for viewing (or photos, for that matter). But I could glimpse the blue, red, and gold uniforms of the guard, and the smiling face of the president; and I could hear the robust singing of the crowd, and the adorably thin voice of one little kid in particular, her fist waving in the air as the flag of Ecuador waved in the wind behind her.

The assembled family and dignitaries

The assembled family and dignitaries

In the Plaza Grande

In the Plaza Grande