A Tour of Quito’s Nativity Scenes

Mangers or nativity scenes are a tradition that dates back to the colonial age. Quito won renown thanks to the talent of the Quiteño School artists, who produced works of art that showcased the times. This tradition has transcended, and even convents, religious communities and family homes, put in a great deal of effort in creating their own “nacimiento” (nativity scene). To admire the art, and learn more about Quito’s popular culture, visit the city’s most ancient nativity scenes, which are only put on display during the Christmas season.
1. The Highest Nativity Scene in the World, El Panecillo: the “winged” virgin of Quito is an icon of the work of Bernardo de Legarda. During the Christmas season it is “accompanied” by Joseph and Baby Jesus, located on one of the most ancient hills in Quito, which was given its name due to its shape resembling a “panecillo” (bread roll).

Admire it from a distance at: the Seven Crosses Street, the San Juan, El Placer and La Tola neighborhoods, and Itchimbía hill.
Until January 6, 2015
Free of charge


2. El Carmen Alto: Visitors can admire the “Slumber of the Virgin” at this museum, in which figures are life-size. The detailing of the gold work on the baroque pieces, made from precious stones and gold, is worthy of admiration; these, along with the colonial nativity scene, are works of art from the Quiteño School.

Address: García Moreno and Rocafuerte, Historical District
Wednesday to Sunday, from 09:30 to 17:30
Cost: $3 adults, $2 students, $1 children. Free entry for senior citizens and people with disabilities.


3. El Carmen Bajo: is one of the most complete and beautiful nativity scenes in the city. Over 500 pieces narrate the Joyful Mysteries and other historical moments like the discovery of the Amazon River by an expedition that launched its trek from Quito. This Nativity Scene has been safeguarded by several generations of Carmelite nuns for over 3 centuries. Some of its pieces, like the Salomé dancers, were once dolls for child nuns who entered the convent.

Address: Venezuela and Olmedo on the corner, Historical District
From December 14 to January 11. Except December 25 and January 1
Tuesday to Sunday, from 09:00 to 12:00 and from 14:30 to 17:30
Suggested donation: $2

4. Church of San Francisco: The “Franciscan Christmas” has been displaying original nativity scenes for 10 years; these days it showcases 100 different ones, made from different materials. The main attraction will be the “Neapolitan” nativity scene from Italy. It stands out because of its origin in the town of Greccio, Italy in 1223, where Francis of Assisi recreated the birth of Baby Jesus for the first time.

Address: Cuenca and Sucre, Plaza de San Francisco – Historical District
From December 12 to January 6, 2016
From 9:00 to 17:30 every day.
3USD adults; 2.50 USD students; 1 USD children.

5. Metropolitan Cultural Center: every year, the Municipality of Quito calls on its citizens to participate in the nativity scene contest, a city tradition. A jury will select the six most representative scenes, which will be put on display at the Cultural Center during the Christmas season and January.

Address: García Moreno and Espejo
From December 21 to January 17
Tuesday to Saturday from 09:00 to 17:30, Sundays from 10:00 to 16:30
Free entry

Text: Carla Martínez  Pictures: Christoph Hirtz. (Derechos Instituto Metropolitano de Patrimonio) Victor Hugo Sánchez

To See
The detail of the pieces of the "Escuela Quiteña"

To Hear
The stories by the nuns as custodians of these treasures

To Smelle
The aroma of the gardens, of damp earth.

To Taste
The cookies or “pompons” made by the nuns of El Carmen Bajo

To Feel
The walls of El Carmen Bajo, imagine their passage through time

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