View the Virgin Maria of El Panecillo
The El Panecillo, or Panecillo Hill, was first known as Shungoloma during the time of the Incas. Shungoloma means “Hill of the Heart”, and it was used by the Inca as a religious site for sun worship. When the Spanish invaded Quito, Ecuador, the sun temple was destroyed and a fortress was built during the years 1812 to 1815. Tourists and locals often use El Panecillo as a reference point, as the hill is located where the south of Quito ends and downtown starts. The hill is just over three thousand meters above sea level and is aptly named El Panecillo, which means “pan bread’ or “bread”, as it resembles a small piece of bread sticking out from the ground.
Agustìn de la Herràn Matorras, a Spanish artist, was approached and commissioned for a sculpture to be placed upon Panecillo Hill. He was to create a sculpture of the Virgin Maria, to stand at a height of forty-five meters. On 28 March 1976, the breathtaking sculpture was inaugurated on El Panecillo and is today one of the most popular attractions in Quito. It was inspired by the sculpture of Quito’s Madonna (Virgen de Quito), which can be seen in the Church of St. Francis, that was sculpted in 1734 by Bernardo de Lagarda. The massive sculpture was created from aluminum, seven thousand pieces of it to be exact. What makes this representation of the Madonna so unique is that Agustìn de la Herràn Matorras added wings to his sculpture. The Virgin Maria can be seen standing on a globe, and under her feet is a snake. Iconography of most Madonna sculptures and monuments depict the Virgin Maria stepping on a snake.
Near the massive sculpture visitors will find the entrance to a cistern, which is known as the Olla del Panecillo. The cistern originates from the Spanish occupation and was used to collect water for gardens and the Bellavista Mansion. It also played a significant historical role in 1822, when it was used as a defense position during the battle of Pichincha.
The views from El Panecillo are truly spectacular, and the best time to appreciate the panoramic scenes is in the early morning. Safety around the hill has been increased with a visible force of policemen, and at night lighting illuminates the hill and the beautiful Virgin Maria. A few eateries have also started to opening for business on the hill, giving visitors the opportunity to marvel at the majestic sights and the spectacular monument over a cup of coffee and a tasty meal. El Panecillo is a wonderful attraction in Ecuador, and the pride of Quito.