Updated: Apr 22, 2022
By Juan Francisco Carrasco
Today we have the honor of interviewing María Elena Machuca, Minister of Culture and Heritage of Ecuador. María Elena is an artist and holds a degree in Human Relations. She was previously Director of the Itchimbía Cultural Center, Director of the Metropolitan Cultural Center, and Executive Director of the City Museums Foundation. María Elena brings years of experience in the arts and if anybody knows about the traditions, art, and culture of Quito, it’s her. We thank Minister María Elena Machuca for sharing her knowledge with us and the expat community in this edition of HiExpat Magazine.
JF: Quito was the first city in Latin America to be declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity site by UNESCO. Why did Quito receive this recognition?
On September 8, 1987, UNESCO declared Quito a Cultural Heritage of Humanity site for having the best preserved and least altered historic center in Latin America. In addition to this, its status as a living historic center, adequately preserved urban design, and the exceptional value of its space and the conservation of its property heritage have made it stand out among other cities.
The historic center of Quito has stood out for its monumental religious architecture and for the value of its material heritage such as the sculptures and representative paintings of the “Escuela Quiteña.” This work from the 17th and 18th centuries expresses the dialogue between European and Indigenous culture. For these attributes, aesthetics, and symbolic cultural characteristics, Quito was granted with this recognition. The Ministry of Culture and Heritage seeks to sustain and preserve this heritage over time for new generations through its policies. The Ministry strongly believes that this heritage constitutes the identity of the city and country.
JF: I love to walk in the historic center and I really enjoy visiting its churches. Has any church in the historic center been declared material heritage?
The declaration of Quito as a Cultural Heritage of Humanity site is due to the fact that its entire architectural complex is representative. All the structures that make up the Historic Center of Quito, whether they are houses, churches, or plazas, are patrimonial and inventoried by the Institute of Cultural Heritage, which is managed by the Metropolitan Institute of Heritage. Their consideration as patrimonial property is given due to all the historical, aesthetic, architectural, social, and cultural value with which these buildings contribute to the identity of the people of Quito and of the country.
The churches of the Historic Center of Quito do not require specific declarations as they are already part of this heritage architectural complex. They have undoubtedly exceptional characteristics that differentiate them from one another. Visiting them is a unique experience to learn about how we practice our religion, customs, and especially to learn about our identity.
JF: My favorite church in the historic center of Quito is “Iglesia San Francisco.” I would like to know what your favorite church is and why?
My favorite church is the “Compañia de Jesús.”I really like its architecture which is entirely carved out of volcanic stone. It is considered one of the most important expressions of baroque architecture on the American continent and in the world. The inside of the church is totally covered with gold sheets which makes it invaluable.
JF: What does the Ministry of Culture and Heritage do to conserve the material heritage of Quito?
The Ministry of Culture and Heritage contributes with public policies focused on the conservation, safeguarding, and enhancement of Quito's cultural heritage. As part of them, the Ministry has a fund for research projects, promotion, and dissemination of Cultural Heritage. This fund has approximately $170,000 for research and $28,000 for promotion and diffusion of resources. These resources are delivered with the aim of supporting the development and implementation of citizen proposals in the different heritages of Quito, among them material heritage.
Additionally, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage provides technical advice to local governments regarding the issuance of municipal ordinances for the protection of cultural heritage. Each canton has a heritage management plan specific to its heritage density and the specific needs of its territory.
JF: Is there any event or activity that you particularly like during Holy Week in Quito?
An event that I really like is the “Arrastre de Caudas,” which is a religious celebration that takes place on Holy Wednesday in Quito’s Cathedral. This is a religious funeral commemoration in tribute to Christ. Previously, it was held in three cities, Lima, Sevilla, and Quito, but currently it is only performed in Quito, making it the only one in the world.
On the other hand, I also enjoy spending time with my family by preparing the traditional “Fanesca”, which is a typical dish eaten during Holy Week, not only in Quito, but throughout Ecuador.
JF: What activities would you recommend for the expat community during Holy Week in Quito?
During Holy Week there are many activities in the historic center of Quito. I recommend attending the procession of “Jesús del Gran Poder” and the “Arrastre de Caudas.” The sacred music concerts that take place in the churches and plazas of the historic center are also outstanding. Additionally, you can visit the wonderful churches, the Street of the Seven Crosses and the religious, recreational, and educational museums.
JF: The procession of “Jesús del Gran Poder” is one of Quito’s most well known events. I love Holy Week in Quito and seeing the mysterious “Cucuruchos.” Why hasn’t the procession of “Jesus del Gran Poder” or the “Cucurucho” been declared in Quito's intangible heritage?
The declarations of cultural manifestations as cultural heritage arise from the citizens, who in coordination with the municipal governments, request the incorporation of their manifestations in the representative list of the national intangible heritage. At the moment their inclusion has not been requested, but it could occur in the future.
JF: Does the Ministry of Culture have a cultural agenda to promote Quito during Holy Week?
The Ministry of Culture and Heritage prepares and publishes a Cultural and Heritage Agenda in which all activities related to the festivities and cultural dates of each month are compiled and shared biweekly. The agenda that contains the activities related to Holy Week will be promoted at the end of March when we present a special edition about “Fanesca.”