La Mitad del Mundo, Equator Monument, Ecuador

The Mitad del Mundo (Spanish: Middle of the World) is a tract of land owned by the prefecture of the province of Pichincha, Ecuador. It is located in the San Antonio parish of the canton of Quito, north of the center of Quito. The grounds contain the Museo Etnográfico Mitad del Mundo, a museum about the indigenous ethnography of Ecuador. The 30-meter-tall monument, built between 1979 and 1982, was constructed to mark the point where the equator passes through the country in the geodetic datum in use in Ecuador at that time. A line down the center of the east-facing staircase, and across the plaza, was meant to mark the equator, and countless tourists over the years have had their pictures taken straddling this line. In the modern datum of the World Geodetic System (WGS84), which is used in GPS systems and computer mapping products like Google Earth, the equator is placed about 240 meters north of the marked line. This discrepancy is partially due to increased accuracy but primarily due to a different choice of mapping datum. Similarly, the line marking the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich in England is roughly 100 meters from the exact zero of longitude as indicated by GPS receivers. The pyramidal monument, with each side facing a cardinal direction, is topped by a 4.5 meter diameter, 5-ton globe. Inside the monument is a small museum that displays elements of indigenous Ecuadorian culture, such as clothing, descriptions of the various ethnic groups, and examples of their activities. Mitad del Mundo contains other attractions such as a Planetarium, an amazing miniature model of Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and restaurants. On weekends, Mitad del Mundo's Central Plaza is host to varied musical and cultural presentations for tourists. A small town surrounding the monument at the Museo Etnográfico functions as the tourist center, replicating a colonial Spanish town and called "Ciudad Mitad del Mundo" (Middle of the World City). The area in the north of the province has been the object of a number of studies attempting to determine the exact location of the equator, with the first result being obtained in the early 1700s by Charles Marie de La Condamine. At the end of the 18th century, General Charles Perrier, from the French Academy of Sciences, was sent to lead a mission to verify that result. Later, in 1936, with the support of the French American Committee, Ecuadorean geographer Dr. Luis Tufiño built a 10-meter monument in San Antonio de Pichincha. In 1979, the monument was moved 7 km to the west, to the town of Calacalí. Today, a new and much larger monument, Museo Etnográfico Mitad del Mundo, constructed between 1979 and 1982, stands in San Antonio de Pichincha. It is made of iron and concrete and covered with cut and polished andesite stone. The exact specification of the equator is, in fact, somewhat variable and dependent on the chosen mathematical datum. A local private attraction, known as the Intiñan Solar Museum, claims to be built to mark the true location of the equator. The museum is an amusement for credulous tourists comparable to various "Mystery Spots" around the world. Tour guides and visitors perform demonstrations ostensibly possible only on the equator such as water flowing both counter-clockwise and clockwise down a drain, and balancing eggs on end. The truth, to which some tour guides will admit, is that latitude has no measurable influence on these tricks; they are not related to the proximity of the equator.