El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana

El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana
The Conquistador who put the Amazaon baisn "on the map"....Francisco Orellana

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Casa San Marcos, a house of treasures

We are posting this not just becuase it is a great place to eat and stay.....but it is right around from our house "Casa de Carondelet"  in Quito...historic San Marcos in Colonial Quito......


Casa San Marcos - a boutique hotel along what is slowly becoming a cultural corridor in central Quito - was, until recently, a house obscured by time.    But the passage of time has a way of not just hiding treasures, but also revealing them when the right person comes along.

The name Jose Jaime Ortiz was all but lost as the architect of Casa San Marcos until archives discovered in recent years revealed the hand behind the craftsmanship.  Ortiz is now recognized as  one of Quito's most formidable architects from  the turn of the 18th century and is credited with a dozen structures in Quito including the El Sagrario Church, the reconstruction of La Merced Church, and the tower of Santo Domingo Church.

Ortiz also designed and built  a number of residential houses in the San Marcos neighborhood, one of which is believed to be  Casa San Marcos.     But if he could see it today, he may not recognize it, at least initially, but his imprint is still visible inside, thanks  to owner Mayra Ribadeneira.

Ortiz designed the home with a very traditional, Spanish layout characterized by a central patio.  Over the years the house was acquired by different families and in 1920 an Italian architect, Antonino Russo, forever changed the traditional design, dividing the central patio in half with a wall.  He also destroyed the original façade and added a third floor along Junin Street.  Though the European influence is what visitors first notice, colonial elements still remain.

One of Ortiz's lasting touches   is the back patio, which was originally a garden and stable for the horses, but is now the hotel cafeteria, Quindi Huasi.  The cafeteria offers a stunning view of the Panecillo hillside, which is also seen from many of the rooms that overlook El Centro.   Dave Churchill, a recent guest at Casa San Marcos who had visited Peru before coming to Quito says, "This is fabulous.  I wake up, look out the window and see this virgin.  We stayed at the Hotel Monastery [in Peru] and it's supposedly a 5-star, but it didn't compare to this."

Perhaps the aspect of the house which most clearly offers a historical dialogue is the ceiling of the main salon, which is constructed above the original patio.  Its construction is known as "bajareque," a system of weaving together beams.  Ribadeneira takes the most pride in showing this to visitors.  "I would say that there is not one corner of this house that is not attractive, but if I had to choose, I believe the main salon is extraordinary…where there is not even one nail, [and it is] made with ties, with mastery by our indigenous ancestors."  It is an unexpected site.

Ribadeneira deserves the credit for re-discovering and putting on display the treasure that is Casa San Marcos.  Over a three year period she  restored the home "with minutia in order to return it to its glory from centuries past."  In doing so, she fully respected the intervention of Russo and the division of the house, creating a long corridor that runs from the front door to the back patio cafeteria.

What stands out about the Casa San Marcos as much as the ceiling, adobe walls, wooden floors, and stone columns, is what you find within and among them all.

Casa San Marcos began not as a hotel, but as the Art Gallery of San Marcos, an extension of the Exedra Gallery, formerly one of Quito's largest art showrooms, established by Ribadaneira.  She explains that, "After a year, many friends suggested that I  broaden the services of the gallery to take full advantage of the beauty of the house."   She opted for a boutique hotel, which continues to display all of the treasures Ribadeneira brought with her.

Casa San Marcos has six rooms available to the public, all decorated with antiques and treasures.  She says some are family heirlooms, including some of the bedroom furniture.  "For me, to have in the house the furniture where I slept as a child is something that fills me with emotion."  Other items are the remnants of her work as an art promoter for nearly half a century.

The Quindi Huasi Cafeteria is open all day. Meals require a reservation, but anyone wishing for something light may stop by anytime. For reservations call 02-228-1811 or 228-8997, or visit   www.casasanmarcos.com

Next to the art gallery, Ribadeneira has an antique shop, which is accessed only from within the hotel.  But throughout the house you will find treasures in the rooms, on the walls, and atop the furniture.  Some are for sale, making Casa San Marcos a "true boutique hotel."  Ribadeneira says, "If you desire, it is possible to acquire [the contents] from the towels to the pillows."

Restored homes like Casa San Marcos allow visitors to encounter different time periods. The house is rustic, European, colonial, modern, and contemporary. The best of past eras is on display and enjoyed with the conveniences of today, such as the contemporary bathroom facilities.  It is truly eclectic in every aspect and a privilege simply to tour the house.
With only six rooms available,  visitors are not overlooked.  Ribadeneira says, "In the hotel all guests receive special treatment.  They breathe art.  Nobody is anonymous and everyone feels as if the house is their own."  If only it was...

Casa San Marcos is located on Junin 655 near the corner of Montufar.  Nightly rates run from $138 to $250 per room.  Prices include taxes and breakfast. 

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