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Ecuador » General Information »
Winter Solstice at the middle of the world

The sun, source of all life on planet Earth, has been worshiped throughout history. It is no exception that the Incas and the indigenous cultures of the Andes that preceded them adored INTI, the Sun-god. As many agrarian cultures, they also developed a sophisticated knowledge of the course of the sky.

Quito valley is the only site on the planet where the equatorial line crosses over highlands (in the rest of the world, the equator crosses through jungle or ocean). Thus, in Quito the pre-Incan cultures could develop their astronomical knowledge helped by the clear landmarks surrounding the city: the Pichincha volcano (15.000 ft) above, the Antisana (18.700 ft) to the southeast, and the peak of the snow-caped Cayambe (18.725 ft) to the northeast, almost precisely on the equatorial line. Thus, Quito is the best natural astronomical observatory in the planet., where the northern and southern hemispheres can be observed.

Most tourists that come to Quito visit the "Middle of the World" monument, built over the site where an expedition of French astronomers measured the Equator in 1736. However, recent measurements made by satellites mark the Equator 300 meters north of this monument, precisely crossing the semicircular wall dating from the Xth century at the summit of the Catequilla hill. This wall follows the arc of the sun’s shadow as the Earth tilts between winter and summer on the solstices of December 22nd and June 21st.

Cristobal Cobo is an Ecuadorian scientist who has engaged in extensive studies about pre-Incan astronomical wisdom. His theories have already led to the discovery of several archeological sites in and around Quito, dating back to 1500BC. Cobo holds that all the pre-Incan archeological sites in Quito and its surroundings are either in line with or parallel to the ecliptic and solstices axes running through Catequilla. He believes all these complexes are the work of the Quitus-Caras, a culture of which very little is known. This culture may have emmigrated to the highlands from the coasts of Ecuador at about 980 AD. The Quitus-Caras used their observations of the sun to predict the best planting and harvesting times of the year. Cobo argues: "Just as Cuzco in Peru was the navel of the Inca Empire, so I believe that Catequilla was the middle of the world for the Quitus-Caras, the point where their cosmological and spiritual belief systems came together." (Geographical, September 2002).

Cobo also discovered that several colonial churches in Quito, built over antique pre Incan sites, are aligned with the sunrays of the solstices. For example, the colonial church of San Francisco (1534) was built on the site of the former royal palace of the Inca Huayna Capac, which itself was built on top of an older pre-Incan settlement. This church is aligned along the summer solstice with the Cayambe volcano to the northeast, and along the December solstice with the Antisana volcano to the southeast. Precisely at 9h00 on December 22nd, when the sun rises over the Antisana Mountain, it shines directly through one of the church’s towers, illuminating the altar passing over God’s face. The native workmen who built the church and altar chose to portray God against a halo of the sun, suggesting they were aware of the solstice effect on it.

Cristóbal Cobo is the director of the scientific research project Quitsa-to (Quitsa-to is the original name of the city, meaning "middle of the world"). His research findings are displayed at the "Solar Culture Museum" close to the Middle of the World Monument. He may be reached at cristocobo@hotmail.com or at his cell phone 099-701-133. Contact him to learn about activities programmed for December 22nd.

Don’t miss the opportunity witness the solar effects in the middle of the world during the December solstice!