The History of Ecuador

Intrigue, War and Politics at the Middle of the World

Quito from El Panecillo

Cayambe/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Ecuador may be small in relation to its South American neighbors, but it has a long, rich history dating back to before the Inca Empire. Quito was an important city to the Inca, and the people of Quito put up a most valiant defense of their home against the Spanish invaders. Since the conquest, Ecuador has been home to many notable figures, from the heroine of independence Manuela Saenz to Catholic zealot Gabriel Garcia Moreno. Check out a bit of history from the Middle of the World!

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Atahualpa, Last King of the Inca

Atahualpa, Fourteenth Inca, 1 of 14 Portraits of Inca Kings

Brooklyn Museum/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In 1532, Atahualpa defeated his brother Huascar in a bloody civil war that left the mighty Inca Empire in ruins. Atahualpa had three mighty armies commanded by skilled generals, the support of the northern half of the Empire, and the key city of Cuzco had just fallen. As Atahualpa basked in his victory and planned how to rule his Empire, he was unaware that a far greater threat than Huascar was approaching from the west: Francisco Pizarro and 160 ruthless, greedy Spanish conquistadors.

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The Inca Civil War

Portrait of Huáscar

Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Sometime between 1525 and 1527, the reigning Inca Huayna Capac died: some believe it was of smallpox brought by the European invaders. Two of his many sons began fighting over the Empire. In the south, Huascar controlled the capital, Cuzco, and had the loyalty of most of the people. To the north, Atahualpa controlled the city of Quito and had the loyalty of three massive armies, all led by skilled generals. The war raged from 1527 to 1532, with Atahualpa emerging victorious. His rule was destined to be short-lived, however, as Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro and his ruthless army would soon crush the mighty Empire.

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Diego de Almagro, Conquistador of the Inca

Diego de Almagro

Chilean National History Museum/Wikimedia Commons/CC0 1.0

When you hear about the conquest of the Inca, one name keeps popping up: Francisco Pizarro. Pizarro didn't accomplish this feat on his own, however. The name of Diego de Almagro is relatively unknown, but he was a very important figure in the conquest, particularly the fight for Quito. Later, he had a falling-out with Pizarro which led to a bloody civil war among the victorious conquistadors which almost gave the Andes back to the Inca.

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Manuela Saenz, Heroine of Independence

Manuela Sáenz

Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Manuela Saenz was a beautiful woman from an aristocratic Quito family. She married well, moved to Lima and hosted fancy balls and parties. She seemed destined to be one of many typical wealthy young ladies, but deep within her burned the heart of a revolutionary. When South America began throwing off the shackles of Spanish rule, she joined the fight, eventually rising to the position of colonel in a cavalry brigade. She also became the lover of the Liberator, Simon Bolivar, and saved his life on at least one occasion. Her romantic life is the subject of a popular opera in Ecuador called Manuela and Bolivar.

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The Battle of Pichincha

Antonio José de Sucre
Antonio José de Sucre.

Palacio Federal Legislativo, Caracas - Venezuela/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain 

On May 24, 1822, royalist forces fighting under Melchor Aymerich and revolutionaries fighting under General Antonio Jose de Sucre fought on the muddy slopes of Pichincha volcano, within sight of the city of Quito. Sucre's resounding victory at the Battle of Pichincha liberated present-day Ecuador from the Spanish forever and cemented his reputation as one of the most skilled revolutionary generals.

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Gabriel Garcia Moreno, Ecuador's Catholic Crusader

Former Ecuadorian president Gabriel garcía Moreno

Presidencia de la República del Ecuador/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Gabriel Garcia Moreno served twice as Ecuador's President, from 1860 to 1865 and again from 1869 to 1875. In the years in-between he effectively ruled through puppet presidents. A fervent Catholic, Garcia Moreno believed that Ecuador's destiny was closely tied to that of the Catholic church, and he cultivated close ties to Rome - too close, according to many. Garcia Moreno put the church in charge of education and gave state funds to Rome. He even had Congress formally dedicate the Republic of Ecuador to "The Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ." In spite of his considerable accomplishments, many Ecuadorians despised him, and when he refused to leave in 1875 when his term ended he was assassinated in the street in Quito.

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The Raul Reyes Incident

In March of 2008, Colombian security forces crossed the border into Ecuador, where they raided a secret base of the FARC, Colombia's armed leftist rebel group. The raid was a success: over 25 rebels were killed, including Raul Reyes, a high-ranking officer of the FARC. The raid caused an international incident, however, as Ecuador and Venezuela protested the cross-border raid, which was done without Ecuador's permission.

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Your Citation
Minster, Christopher. "The History of Ecuador." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Minster, Christopher. (2021, February 16). The History of Ecuador. Retrieved from Minster, Christopher. "The History of Ecuador." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).