The city occupies a small basin in the great central plateau formed by the volcano Pichincha, the Puengasi ridge, and ridges formed by spurs from the eastern side of Pichincha. The land upon which Quito is built is uneven and is traversed by two deep ravines (quebradas), one of which is arched over in great part to preserve the alignment of the streets, the drainage of which escapes through a cleft in the ridge northward to the plain of Tumbaco.
Its full title was San Francisco del Quito, and it was the capital of the province or presidency of
down to the end of Spanish colonial rule. It has suffered repeatedly from earthquakes, the greatest damage occurring from those of 1797 and 1859 but the city has the best preserved and least altered historic centre in Quito Latin America.
The Franciscan Order was the first to establish itself in
and immediately started built a monastery which became the centre of education and art with its own schools of painting and sculpture. The Augustinian, Dominicans and Jesuits subsequently shaped the appearance of the city with their monasteries. The monasteries of San Francisco and Santo Domingo and the Church and Jesuit College of La Compañía with their rich interiors are pure examples of the so-called 'Baroque school of Quito', a fusion of Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Flemish and indigenous art. La Compañía is probably the richest church in Quito South America with its golden altar.
The city is in great part laid out in rectangular squares, the streets approximately aligned on the cardinal points of the compass. The houses of
are chiefly built in the old Spanish or Moorish style. The building material in general use is sun-dried brick, covered in the better houses with plaster or stucco. Quito
The public buildings are of the heavy Spanish type. Facing on to the principal square are the cathedral, the government palace, the archbishop's palace and the city hall. The finest building in the city is the Jesuit church, the facade of which is covered with elaborate carving.