Earliest civilizations

The oldest archaeological artefacts that have been uncovered in Ecuador date back to approximately 10,000 BC. They include obsidian spear tips and belong to a pre-ceramic period during which the region's inhabitants are thought to have been nomadic hunters, fishers and gatherers. A subsequent formative period (4000-500 BC) saw the development of pottery, presumably alongside agriculture and fixed settlements. One of these settlements, known as Valdivia, existed along the coast of Ecuador and remains of buildings and earthenware figures have been found dating from 3500-1500 BC .

Between 500 BC and AD 500, many different cultures evolved in all the geographic regions of what is today Ecuador. Among these were the Bahía, Guangalá, Jambelí and Duale-Tejar of the coast; Narrío, Tuncahuán and Panzaleo in the highlands; and Upano, Cosanga and Yasuní in Oriente. The period AD 500-1480 was an era of integration, during which dominant or amalgamated groups emerged. These included, from north to south in the Sierra, the Imbayas, Shyris, Quitus, Puruhaes and Cañaris; and the Caras, Manteños and Huancavilcas along the coast.

This rich and varied mosaic of ancient cultures is today considered the bedrock of Ecuador's national identity. It was confronted, in the mid-15th century, with the relentless
northward expansion of the most powerful pre-Hispanic empire on the continent: the Incas.

The Inca Empire

The Inca Kingdom already existed in southern Peru from the 11th century. It was not until the mid-15th century, however, that the empire began to expand northwards.
Pachacuti Yupanqui
became ruler of the Incas in 1428 and, along with his son
Túpac Yupanqui
, led the conquest of the Andean highlands north into present-day Ecuador. The Cañaris resisted for several years but were defeated around 1470. Their northern counterparts fought on for some decades, defeating various Inca armies.

Huayna Capac
, Túpac Yupanqui's son, was born in Tomebamba (present-day Cuenca), which became one of the most important centres of the Inca Empire. Quito was finally captured in 1492 (a rather significant year) and became the base from which the Incas extended their territory even further north. A great road was built between Cuzco and Quito, but the empire was eventually divided; it was ruled after the death of Huayna Capac by his two sons,
at Cuzco and
at Quito.

Conquest and colonial rule

Civil war broke out between the two halves of the empire, and in 1532 Atahualpa secured victory over Huáscar and established his capital in Cajamarca, in northern Peru. In the same year, conquistador
Francisco Pizarro
set out from Tumbes, on the Peru-Ecuador border, finally reaching Cajamarca. There, he captured the Inca leader and put him to death in 1533. This effectively ended Inca resistance and their empire collapsed.

Pizarro claimed the northern kingdom of Quito, and his lieutenants
Sebastián de Benalcázar
Diego de Almagro
took the city in 1534. Pizarro founded Lima in 1535 as capital of the whole region and four years later replaced Benalcázar at Quito with Gonzalo, his brother.
Gonzalo Pizarro
later set out on the exploration of the Oriente. He moved down the Napo river, and sent
Francisco de Orellana
ahead to prospect. Orellana did not return. He drifted down the river finally to reach the mouth of the Amazon, thus becoming the first white man to cross the continent in this way; an event which is still considered significant in the history of Ecuador .

Quito became a
real audiencia
under the viceroyalty of Peru. For the next 280 years Ecuador reluctantly accepted the new ways brought by the conquerors. Gonzalo Pizarro had already introduced pigs and cattle; wheat was now added. The native people were Christianized and colonial laws, customs and ideas were introduced. The marriage of the arts of Spain to those of the Inca led to a remarkable efflorescence of painting, sculpture and building in Quito, one of the very few positive effects of conquest, which otherwise effectively enslaved the natives. In the 18th century, the production and export of cocoa began and black slave labour was brought in to work cocoa and sugar plantations.

Independence and the 19th century

Ecuadorean independence came about in several stages beginning in 1809, but was not completed until royalist forces were defeated by
Antonio José de Sucre
in the Battle of Pichincha in 1822. For the next eight years Ecuador was a province of Gran Colombia under the leadership of
Simón Bolívar
. As Gran Colombia collapsed in 1830, Ecuador at last became a fully independent nation.

Following independence, Ecuadorean politics were dominated by various elites. They were sometimes divided along regional lines (Quito and the highlands versus Guayaquil and the coast) and frequently fought among each other. Rule by rival oligarchies under the cloak of constitutional democracy or military dictatorship, has proved to be an enduring theme in Ecuadorean history.

Ecuador has had a great many presidents, but two diametrically opposed leaders are
emblematic of their times.
Gabriel García Moreno
(president 1860-1865 and 1869-1875) was
an arch-conservative, renowned for his cruel dictatorship and attempts to force Catholicism on the entire population; he denied citizenship to non-Catholics. He was eventually hacked to death by machete at the entrance of the presidential palace in Quito.
Eloy Alfaro
(1895-1901 and 1906-1911), was precisely the opposite, a liberal who sought to bring Ecuador into the modern world, based on revenues from the cocoa boom. He introduced secular education, civil marriage and divorce, confiscated church lands and abolished capital
punishment. Assassinated by his opponents, Alfaro's body was dragged through the streets of Quito before being publicly burned. García Moreno and Alfaro had more in common
than their gruesome fate, both were
(strong-men) who ruled by force of arms, as well as charisma.
also remains an enduring feature of Ecuadorean public life.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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