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San Francisco was the first church built in Quito. Construction began in 1535, just 1 month after the Spanish arrived. (It took more than 100 years to finish.) You’ll notice that Plaza San Francisco is distinctly sloped; for several hundred years, it was assumed that it followed the shape of the earth. However, a group of archaeologists have discovered that San Francisco was built over an Inca temple, which is the reason the actual church is much higher than other structures in Quito. As you walk up the stairs from the plaza to the church, you can’t help but notice how wide the stairs are. Supposedly the architects designed the stairs this way so that as you approach the church, you have to keep your eyes on your feet to watch where you’re going—in other words, you are forced to bow your head in respect.

Like La Compañía, San Francisco is an important baroque church, but the latter is much larger and, for some reason, feels much more somber. The ceilings have a beautiful Moorish design. In the entryway, as in La Compañía, you will notice images of the sun, which were used to lure indigenous people to the Christian religion. Throughout the church are combinations of indigenous and Catholic symbols. For example, the interior is decorated with angels in the shape of the sun—and the faces of these angels have distinct Indian characteristics.

The baroque altar in the front of the church has three important sculptures: The top is El Bautismo de Jesús (The Baptism of Jesus); the bottom is a representation of Jesús de Gran Poder (Almighty Jesus); and the middle is probably one of the most important sculptures in Ecuador, the original La Virgen de Quito (The Virgin of Quito), designed by Bernardo de Legarda. (La Virgen de Quito was the model for the huge winged angel on the Panecillo.) Plan to spend between 30 minutes and an hour here.