The strangely touristy thrill of standing in two hemispheres can easily be fulfilled just outside of Quito. There is a thriving tourist complex claiming to be the middle of the world. Well the equator is a rather lengthy line and there are many places to stand on the middle. However, the true claim to understanding Ecuador’s claim to being la ‘mitad del mundo’ can be explored a little further from the touristy glare.
Quitsato is an enormous sundial set precisely on the equator. In fact, unlike the tourist Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, this measurement has been confirmed accurate using the latest in geospatial technology. Yes it is cool to stand in both the northern and southern hemispheres, but the real allure of this place is the astronomical and historical knowledge.
Since the days of pre-Incan society, people aligned themselves and their settlements to the movements of the sun. Standing within the sundial, the staff explain the annual movement of the sun and how it aligns with archeological sites scattered around the area. These sites sit on the exact lines that the rising and setting sun make on the two equinoxes and the two solstices.
Going even further, it shows that the centro historico of Quito itself was aligned to one of these lines and that the famous Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús has a special window that permits the sun to shine through and alight a piece of the altar on the solstice.
So, why the ‘middle of the world’ then? It is because the topography of Ecuador permitted the ancient people to understand the movement of the sun in a way that is difficult in other places in which the equator passes. On most of its journey the equator is over open seas or lush equatorial rainforest – not places conducive to the type of precise astronomical calculations needed to witness sunrises and sunsets.
Standing at Quitsato you see the slopes of Cayambe volcano to the east – also the highest point on the equator. And as you turn in each direction there are clear hillsides that mark the solstices and equinoxes. And on every one of those hillsides is an archeological site. Incredibly, the ancients understood the sun and its movements in a way that most 21st century humans can only pretend to understand – even with our technology. It is impressive to stand there and feel a connection to this shared human experience.
It’s highly worth checking out their website if you can’t make a trip there in person. They have loads of information about the equator and their work, and some lovely images with local Ecuadorian dancers at this important landmark. The short video on their homepage is beautiful: www.quitsato.org. Thank you Josue and your team for always being so welcoming and informative on all of our visits with friends and family.