Hill of the Heart – Panecillo, Quito, Ecuador – History, Public Spaces, Identities – by Megan Gonrowski . The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
The Panecillo, given this name by the Spaniards meaning “little bread”, is the small hill that juts up in the middle of Quito near the colonial historic center. Its Quichua (a major indigenous language of the Andes mountains since the time of the Inca) name is Shungoloma, which means “Hill of the Heart.” On top of the Panecillo, is a unique statue of the Virgin Mary with angel wings. The wings are important in this depiction of Mary because they are a reference to the biblical book of Revelations. This statue was placed on top of the hill in 1975, by the Spanish sculpture Agustín de la Herrán Matorras. The statue is made up of over 7,000 individual pieces of aluminum. The statue is one of the best landmarks in Quito because it can be seen from many different parts of the city. I first saw the Panecillo from afar when I visited the Basilica on one of my first days in Quito. The view from the Basilica is amazing to look over the city, but I can honestly say the view from the Panecillo is better because at the top of the Mary statue there is a 360-degree observation deck.
However, this tourist attraction or historical landmark, whichever way you look at it, has a deep-rooted identity with the people of Quito. I will share the story of the North versus the South as it has been told to me by local people from Quito. First, it is important to understand that Quito is a long city nestled in the Andes mountains and the city scape stretches from North to South. For a long time, the North has been known as the nicer and wealthier part of the city and the South has been assigned the opposite description. Whether it is fair or accurate, The South is often called dangerous or the poor part of Quito. This may have been true at one point in Quito’s history, but as the city’s population grows so does the blending between the North and the South in terms of wealth and areas that are possibly dangerous to walk around after dark. However, it is true that in the very northern part of Quito, the wealthiest neighborhoods still exist. This is not to say that there are not nice neighborhoods in all parts of Quito. My host family actually told me that the wealthiest people in Quito live in the North directly at the base of a volcano that has been inactive for decades, but she said if it were to ever seriously erupt, that neighborhood would go first.
The reason that the stereotypical differences between the North and the South is important for the history of the Panecillo, is because the Virgin Mary at the top cannot face both ways. Whether by coincidence or not, the Virgin has her back turned to the South. Therefore, giving the South the nickname “la espalda” or the back of the city. When the statue went in there was a lot of protest from the South because they obviously got the worse view of the statue. Many people from the South claim that this choice to place the statue facing the North was a public statement — that the North is the better part of Quito.
However, just to play devil’s advocate. I couldn’t help but notice that while visiting the Basilica and the Panecillo, that the Basilica and the statue of the Virgin Mary are directly facing each other from across the city. Both areas are on top of hills that surround the old city and its historic center where the President and other government officials reside. Perhaps, the importance of having the statue facing the Basilica could be an unbiased justification for why the statue faces one direction and not the other. Regardless of if this placement was intentional or not, many people still believe it to be true and this supposed coincidence still helps to fuel stereotypes about the people and living conditions in the South.
Megan serves as an assistant editor for NSR.
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