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An independent state of South America, bounded on the north by Colombia, on the east by Brazil, on the south by Peru, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. The northwest corner of the state is crossed by the equator, hence its name.

No part of America has been so prominent for scientific explorations, specially geographic and physiographic, carried out on a large scale in the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century. One, sent out in 1735 by the French Government for the purpose of measuring the meridian near the equator, recalls the names of La Condamine and Bouguer. The other (1790-1804) forever associates Alexander von Humboldt with the history of the New World.

Area, physical features, etc.

Ecuador is the third smallest of the South American republics. It forms, approximately, an isosceles triangle wedged in between Colombia and Peru. Indenting the southwest coast is the Gulf of Guayaquil within which lies the large island of Puná. As in the case of other South American republics, the boundaries of Ecuador are ill-defined and subject to modification by treaty. Its area is variously given as from 80,300 to 152,000 sq. miles, to which must be added the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific, lying about 90°-92° west long., 10 degrees off the coast, and covering from 2490 to 3000 sq. miles. These islands are about ten in number, only one of which (Isabella or Albemarie) is inhabited by some two hundred people.

The eastern half of Ecuador is low, wooded, and traversed by many rivers emptying into the Marañon or Upper Amazon; the western is very mountainous, the high Andes chain dividing the two sections. The mountain chain runs nearly due south from the southern boundary of Colombia to the Peruvian frontier. It has a number of high peaks, all of volcanic origin, among them Chimborazo (20, 500 ft.) and many volcanoes. Of the latter, Cotopaxi (19,613 ft.), Tunguragua (16,690 ft.) and Sangai (17,454 ft.) are still active; Antisana (19,335 ft.); Pichincha (15,918 ft.), etc. have been extinct for a century or more, while Altar, Cotocachi, etc., show traces only of activity in ages long past.

The Ecuadorian table-land and higher mountain valleys are temperate, though the temperature is low in the greater altitudes. The year is divided into the dry and the wet season. Under the Equator, however, there is little difference between the seasons. The coast valleys and shores are very hot, and the climate generally unhealthful.

Ecuador has but one navigable river, the Guayas, which empties into the Gulf of Guayaquil. The other streams of Western Ecuador are of little importance. The flora is luxuriant except in high altitudes. Both lower slopes of the Andes are densely wooded. On the coast there is an arid zone of limited extent; the larger portion, however, is very fertile as far as the Peruvian boundary at Tumbez. The inland forests in the south are rich in Chicona bark, and extend easterly to a height of nearly 10,000 feet. Then follows a sub-Andean zone for the next 3500 feet, in which cereals thrive in an average temperature of from 53° to 59° Fahr. This is followed by what are called the páramos, cold and stormy wastes, treeless and exposed to daily snows, which reach an altitude of 15,000 feet above sea level, and where the tough puna-grass flourishes. On the eastern slope of the Andes dense forests are found again and the cinnamon tree. Animal life is tropical and found in proportion to the vegetation.

As far as known, Ecuador is fairly rich in minerals. It is the only South American state, with the exception of Colombia, where emeralds have been found in any quantity (near the coast at Manta and Esmeraldas); their location, however, is uncertain.

The population is estimated at 1,272,000, of whom about 20,000 are supposed to be Indians. Exact statistics, however, do not exist. Of the 400,000, one-half is allowed to the wild forest-tribes of the eastern section and the other half to the remnants of the diverse sedentary tribes which formerly occupied the table-land and coast. The whole country is divided into fifteen provinces besides the Eastern territory and the Galapagos Islands.


Of the pre-Columbian conditions and languages of the Indians of Ecuador little is known. The coast tribes have almost disappeared, and those of the higher regions have adopted Spanish customs. That they differed from the Peruvian Quicha seems likely. The best known were the Cañaris, the Carangas, and the Puruaes or Puruays; a tribe known as the Scyri is mentioned in the neighbourhood of Quito. They were all sedentary; knew how to work gold, silver, copper, and possibly bronze; and practiced the fetishism common to primitive Americans. The coast tribe built their houses of wood and cane while those of the interior used stone. They were skillful navigators, some of their vessels being estimated at thirty tons, and propelled by oars and cotton sails.

The Spaniards, led by Francisco Pizarro, first saw the coast of Ecuador in 1525. From Tacamez, or Atacames, where they touched, Pizarro dispatched Ruiz, his pilot, to the south. In the account of Pizarro we have the earliest description of the Ecuadorian coast and people. He sailed south beyond the present limits of Peru, verifying his pilot's reports, and in 1528 returned to Spain to prepare for the conquest of Peru. He returned in 1531, landed at Coaque, and, marching south along the shore, established himself, despite the hostility of the natives, on the island of Puná. The permanent Spanish occupation of Ecuador, however, began in 1534, from Piura to Peru under Sebastian de Belalcazar. He had a tedious campaign to Quito, in which he was assisted by Cañaris. In 1534, three towns were established; San Francisco de Quito (15 August) at Riobamba, thirteen days later transferred to its present site, Chimbo; and Guayaquil, also originally founded at a place distinct from the one it now occupies. Meanwhile Pedro de Alvarado had landed on the coast with a considerable force from Guatemala. Reaching the central plateau, he was confronted by Belalcazar and Diego de Almagro the elder. An amicable agreement was reached, and Gonzalo Pizarro pushed into the cinnamon country, but made little headway and had to turn back. His lieutenant, Orellana, however, floated down the Amazon, and landed on the Isle of Trinidad, whence he carries to Spain the first information about southeastern Ecuador.

The second epoch of civil wars in Peru, the uprising of Gonzalo Pizarro against the viceroy Nuñez de la Vela, came to an end with the defeat and death of the viceroy near Quito, 16 Jan., 1546. Quito became the headquarters of the Crown's representative, and with this as a basis, the independence movement was put down. During the colonial period the Church founded institutions of learning such as the University of Quito and established a printing press at the same place in 1760. Political disturbances were few, but during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries volcanic and seismic phenomena were frequent and often disastrous. An attempt was made in 1809 to overthrow the Spanish power, and Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, together with the rest of Spanish South America, then engaged in efforts toward independence. In 1820 Guayaquil succeeded in throwing off Spanish control, and the battle of Pichincha (22 May, 1822) finally put an end to the domination of the mother country. Ecuador, with Colombia and Venezuela, next formed an independent confederacy until 1830, when the union was dissolved and the first Ecuadorian congress met. Since then Ecuador has been toward by internal dissensions and foreign complications, chiefly with Colombia. The opposing political parties are the Conservatives, or Clericals, and the Liberals. Since 1893 the latter have been in power and have to a great extent adopted a policy of secularization in church matters. From 1833 to 1908 Ecuador has had nineteen presidents.

Government, education, etc.

Ecuador is a constitutional republic. From 1830 to 1883 it had no less than ten constitutions; the last was adopted in 1897. The executive head is the president, elected with the vice-president directly by the people for a term of four years. The senators (30) and the deputies (41) are also elected by direct vote, the former for four, the latter for two years. Congress meets biennially at Quito, the capital, on 10 August, and is in session for sixty days. The principal cities are: Quito (80,000); Guayaquil (51,000); Cuenca (30,000); Riobamba (18,000), and five of ten thousand or more inhabitants. Guayaquil is the chief seaport. In 1904 Ecuador had 168 miles of railroad and 2565 miles of telegraph, both of which have since been added to. The monetary unit is the sucre, about equal to the peso of other Spanish-American countries, but subject to fluctuation in value. The chief exports are cacao, vegetable ivory, india-rubber, and straw hats.

Educational statistics are scanty. There is a university at Quito with thirty-two professors and two hundred and sixteen students (1905). Institutions of higher education are found at Guayaquil and Cuenca. The number of secondary schools is 35; primary schools 1088 with 1498 teachers and 68,380 pupils; and 9 high schools and colleges.


Soon after the discovery of the country missionaries began their labour in Ecuador and in 1545 the Bishopric of Quito was erected. Work among the different Indian tribes on the tributaries of the Amazon was difficult, and the Dominican missions were destroyed in 1599 by the savage Jivaros. Later, however, the Dominicans re-established themselves and were assisted by the Jesuits who had been in Quito since 1596. By the close of the seventeenth century Ecuador was well-evangelized, but after the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, who on the Napo alone had thirty-three missions with 100,000 inhabitants, the Dominicans were unable to keep up the work and the natives fell back into paganism. The revolution destroyed all traces of two hundred years of untiring labour. Since 1848 Ecuador has formed an ecclesiastical province. The population is Catholic except for a small number of foreigners and a few pagan Indians in the East.

Up to 1861 the government was in the hands of the Liberal and largely anti-Catholic party. When Garcia Moreno was elected president (1861-65 and 1869-75), however, he reorganized civil and religious affairs. Under him a Concordat (20 November, 1863) was concluded with Rome, new dioceses were erected, schools and missions given to the Jesuits (who had been recalled), and others, and in 1864, at the time of the spolation of the Holy See, ten percent of the state's income was guaranteed to the pope. Moreno was murdered 6 Aug., 1875, and his death not only put an end to the concordat, but under the new regime which succeeded him a series of persecutions occurred. In 1885, when Bishop Schumacher took charge, nearly all the native clergy were suspended and replaced by Europeans and practically a new hierarchy established. The religious and moral education of the people was likewise in bad condition. The revolution of Alfaro in 1895 was a severe blow to the Church. The orders, among them the Capuchins, Salesians, Missionaries of Steyl, and the various sisterhoods, were all banished and Bishop Schumacher obliged to flee.

The State religion is the Catholic, but other creeds are not interfered with. Since tithes were abolished the State has provided for the maintenance of Catholic worship; it also supports religious educational institutions, such as the three seminaries at Quito and six elsewhere, one in each of the six dioceses. Civil marriage was recognized in 1902, and two years later the Church and its property were placed under State control. At the same time it was enacted that no new or foreign religious order would be permitted in the country. Suffragan to Quito, which became an archbishopric in 1848, are: Cuenca (1786), Guayaquil (1837), Ibarra (1862), Loja (1866), Puerto Viejo, or Porto Viejo (1871), Riobamba (1863). There are also four vicariates Apostolic subject to the Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs: Canelos and Macas, Mendez and Gualaquizza, Napo, Zamora.


The first known mention of the Ecuadorian coast is made by JUAN de SAMANO, Relación de los primeros descubrimientos de Francisco Pizarro y Diego de Almagro (1525-26) in Documentos para la Historia de España, V.
Accounts of eyewitnesses on the conquest: Francisco de Zerez, Verdadera relación della Conquista de la Perú y provincia del Cuzco llamada la nueva Castilla (ed. 1534; Salamanca, 1547; and translations); La Conquista de la Perú llamada la nueva Castilla (Seville, 1534); PEDRO PIZZARO, Relación del descub. y conquista del Perú (c. 1571) in Doc. para la Hist. de España, V.
Later sources are: CIEZA, Primera Parte de la Crónica del Perú; AUGUSTIN DE ZARATE, Hist. del Descub. y Con. del Perú (Antwerp, 1555); SANTA CLARA, Hist de las Guerras civiles del Perú (Madrid, 1904); CIEZA, La Guerra de Quito in Doc. para la Hist. de la España; GACILASSO DE LA VEGA, Comentarios reales de los Incas (Cordova, 1617); Narratives of the Rites and Laws of the Incas. ed. MARKHAM, (Hackluyt Soc., London, 1873), especially the first part, LOPEZ DE VELASCO, Geogr. &ca. de Indias (Madrid, 1892). Important documents are found in Colección de Doc. de Indias and in Relaciones geog. de Indias (Madrid), I, III. Cf. Gomara, Herrera, and, for beginning of Conquest, PETER MARTYR. — See also: JUAN DE VELASCO, Hist del Reyno de Quito (Quito, 1841-42); ULLOA AND JORGE JUAN, Relación hist. del viage á la América Meridional etc. (Madrid, 1748); Resumen hist. del or'gen sucesión de los Incas etc. (Caracas, 1830); LA CONDAMINE, Journal du Voyage fait par ordre du roi à l'Equateur (Paris, 1751); Idem, Hist. des pyramides de Quito (Paris, 1751); Humboldt, Relación hist. (Paris, 1816-31); Vues des Cordilléres etc. (Paris, 1816); BENEDETTI, Hist. de Colombia (Lima, 1887); GONZALEZ SUÁREZ, Hist. general de la Repúb. del Ecuador (Quito, 1890); WOLF, Geog. y geolog'a del Ecuador (Leipzig, 1892); STÜBEL, Skizzen aus Ecuador (Berlin, 1886); Idem, Die Vulkanberge von Ecuador (Berlin, 1898); REISS and STÜBEL, Reisen in Süd-Amerika (Berlin, 1890); KOHLBERG, Nach Ecuador (Freiburg im Br., 1897); HASSAUREK, Four Years Among Spanish Americans (New York, 1876); WYNPER, Travels Among the Great Andes of Ecuador (London, 1892); see also publications of the Bureau of American Republics (Washington, D. C.) and Dicc. Hisp-Amer. For history of printing in Ecuador, see TORIBIO MEDINA, La Imprenta en Quito (Santiago, 1904).

About this page

APA citation. Bandelier, A.F. (1909). Ecuador. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Bandelier, Adolph Francis. "Ecuador." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by M. Donahue.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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