“Cotopaxi's shape is the most beautiful and regular of all the colossal peaks in the high Andes. It is a perfect cone covered by a thick blanket of snow which shines so brilliantly at sunset it seems detached from the azure of the sky.” Alexander von Humboldt, 1820.
One and a quarter hours from Quito, capital of Ecuador, stands the beautiful and little known colonial Hacienda of San Agustín de Callo. Built on the site of an Inca palace, one of the two most important archaeological Inca sites in Ecuador, and the point furthest north from Cuzco of Imperial style construction, this working farm offers an unrivalled glimpse into Ecuador's rich and colourful past. Since the 15th century San Agustin de Callo has served as Inca fortress, Augustinian convent and temporary home for the French Geodesic Mission whose scientific results helped to determine the true shape of the planet. Famous visitors include Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa who were appointed by the King of Spain to host the Geodesic Mission in 1736, the awesome scientific enterprise organized and led by Charles-Marie de la Condamine; Alexander von Humboldt German scientist and renowned naturalist and explorer and the illustrious English mountain climber Edward Whymper.
The varied and influential inhabitants of San Agustín de Callo have contributed to the unique blend of architecture which creates the individual character of the house. In the main courtyard it is possible to see three distinct styles, Inca (Imperial style – 15th century, construction style which the Incas used for their temples and palaces), Spanish Colonial (18th century) and Republican (19th century). The Hacienda has been written about by the famous chronicler Cieza de León (1536). This Inca Palace or temple was built by Tupac-Yupanqui (Inca Emperor) or Huayna-Capac in the 15th century. San Agustin de Callo constitutes the only lived in museum of Inca Imperial and Spanish Colonial style.
By far the most impressive sights are the perfectly carved volcanic stone walls of two of the Inca rooms which have survived the centuries and now serve as chapel and dining room.
Surrounded by the smoke-blackened walls of the dining room, one can marvel at the infinite precision of the stonemasonry, a monument to the unrivalled craftsmanship of the Incas, and admire the stunning view of Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world. This magical spectacle was extolled by Alexander von Humboldt who visited the Inca site in 1802 and included his observations in his work "Vue de Cordillères et Monuments des Peuples Indigènes de L´ Amèrique" Paris 1810; and immortalized by the famous painter, Frederic Church (Hudson River School) in 1859. This unique experience provides guests with a perfect setting to savour the Hacienda's excellent Ecuadorian cuisine and enjoy its warm hospitality.
In 1921 the Hacienda was purchased by General Leonidas Plaza Gutierrez, leader of the liberal Revolution. Plaza went on to become President of Ecuador in 1901 and again in 1912, a position which was to be held by his son Galo Plaza in 1948. The Hacienda has remained in the family to this day and is currently owned by the General's granddaughter, Mignon Plaza, whose father, the distinguished congressman and legendary amateur bullfighter, Jose María Plaza, played a pivotal role in politics throughout his life.
This temple or palace was built around 1440 A.D. by one of the last Inca emperors, Huayna-Cápac, and to this day the remaining rooms prevail as a magnificent sample of the unique style of Inca construction. The site is currently being investigated by Dr. David Brown of the University of Texas, the funding of which was provided by the National Geographic Society. Previously unknown portions of Inca walls and foundations have been discovered throughout the restoration process of the house.