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15 November 2012 / leggypeggy

Astronomical delights in Quito Ecuador

Merz Equatorial Telescope

Merz Equatorial Telescope installed in 1875

As a kid I wanted to be an astronomer and I’m still not sure why I never got around to it. The night sky holds a huge fascination for me as does anything to do with stargazing and astronomy.

Poor John has similar interests, so it’s not surprising that we sought out the Museum of the Quito Astronomical Observatory while we were in Ecuador.

Founded in 1873, it is one of Latin America’s oldest observatories. That helps to explain why it sits in Alameda Park, smack in the middle of contemporary Quito.

It’s in a gorgeous old building that was completely restored just three years ago. It’s Victorian style, three turrets and use of wrought iron make it a perfect setting for a remake of The Time Machine.

Quito Astronomical Observatory

A view from one turret to another

In the mid 1700s, Ecuador was the site of the first French Geodesic Mission, which measured a precise arc of the Earth’s meridian.

It was perhaps from these early surveys that a site for a world-class observatory in Quito, which lies just arc minutes south of the equator, was born.

The observatory itself was the brainchild of then President Gabriel Garcia Moreno and visiting German scientist Father Juan Bautista Menten, who modeled the floor plan after the observatory in Bonn Germany.

The Quito museum has displays of the instruments used by early astronomers and scientists, as well as a valuable Merz Equatorial Telescope made in Germany.

We spent at least an hour exploring the various exhibits and also climbed (a very easy climb on a normal staircase) to the roof for a view of the city and part of the weather station on one of the turrets. Don’t forget to descend the floating-in-air staircase to see the exhibits in the basement.

It wasn’t until after we left Quito that we learned the observatory offers basic astronomy courses and sometimes provides night observations by telescope. More information is here, but in Spanish only.

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  1. Janice Wingfield / Jun 24 2014 4:53 pm

    I’m friends with your sister Susan. She and I worked at the same hospital in Tulsa. I came upon your blog via Susan’s Facebook page. I started reading more of your adventures and saw the ones in Ecuador. Our daughter & son-in-law lived in Cotacachi, Ecuador for 13 months. Cotacachi is northwest of Quito and is up about 8,000 feet in the Andes. It’s a small community and is known for its leather goods. We visited them twice and had a great time. Leather Street in Cotacachi smells like…….well, leather. We went to the largest open air market in Ecuador, located in Otovolo. The market had everything imaginable. We saw livestock, roasted pig, textiles, spices, pottery, cinnamon sticks that were 18 inches long and 1/2 inch in diameter, eggs, poultry, fish, and a lot more. Ibarra was fun to visit also. We visited a lake that was on the top of a dormant volcano. You could see gasses bubbling to the surface in places. If you’re fond of taking hikes, you can walk around the lake at an altitude of about 10,000 feet, literally stand in the clouds, and enjoy a workout equivalent of spending 4.5 hours on a Stairmaster. The menfolk did this, not me! We did a day trip to Quito and saw the “gold” church like you did. We visited the equator monument and found out that it was built in the early 1700’s and was less than 200 meters away from the actual equator measured by using GPS technology. Sadly enough, we never made it to the Galápagos Islands. We were planning to do it on a later trip but our daughter & SIL moved back to the states. The indigenous Ecuadorians were fascinating and we enjoyed learning about their culture. It’s amazing how cheap it is to live in Cotacachi. It’s a fast growing retirement town for gringo’s to live. Sarah & Dylan were the youngest tenants in their small gated neighborhood. They took their little Boston terrier with them when they moved there. The Ecuadorians were freaked out by her and called her a “devil dog.” The veterinarian that did Lexi’s paperwork to get her back into the states said he’d only treated 3 Boston terriers in his 32 years of practice. Lexi was number 3 and the other 2 were owned by gringos that brought them with them when they moved to the area. I look forward to reading more of your blogs!


    • leggypeggy / Jun 25 2014 12:07 am

      Hello Janice and welcome to the blog. Thanks so much for sharing details about your visits to Ecuador. It’s an amazing country and it sound like you made the most of it. I’m always behind on the blog, and there’s still lots more to tell about Ecuador. I need more hours in the day. Hope you drop in often to see where we are. 🙂

      Oh, and please give that Boston terrier a pat from a dog lover.


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