Jardín de la Circasiana (Milo Park), Quito

One of the park’s statues of horses

photography by: Omri Westmark

Reading time:

In the late 19th century, the now urban parish of "La Mariscal" experienced an incessant influx of aristocrats, quickly becoming the wealthiest neighborhood across the Ecuadorian capital. It was during this time that noble families inundated the formerly agricultural land with lavish mansions, many of which were designed by illustrious European architects. While today, not much is left from the district’s glorious past, a sole estate stands out amid its gritty surroundings. Alongside is a small garden, where a series of whimsical sculptures blur the line between reality and fantasy.

For the average tourist, the districts of Santa Clara de San Millan and Mariscal Sucre can appear at first as a rather humdrum place. But delve deeper and you might come across a true hidden gem – Jardín de la Circasiana, a quaint garden that offers a much-needed respite from the city’s hustle and bustle. Interestingly, this green enclave and its adjacent mansion are among the only few vestiges of the neighborhood’s bygone era.

 

Before the 1890s, the northern outskirts of the Ecuadorian capital were predominantly open meadows owned by the local indigenous people. Piecemeal yet persistently, these farmlands turned into a series of stately estates as the city’s well-heeled migrated to the area, transforming it into an upper-class neighborhood.

 

Chief among them was Don Manuel Jijón Larrea, a scion of one of Ecuador’s most influential families. In 1893, he commissioned the construction of a grand manor, designated as the residence for his son, Jacinto Jijón y Caamaño, a historian and archeologist who would later become the mayor of Quito as well as a presidential candidate.

 

The nobleman spared no expense and erected an ostentatious building modeled after a Palladian villa, praised by many for its architectural merit. So much so in fact that Larrea’s wife christened it the “Circassian Palace” (Palacio de La Circasiana), as according to her, the house was equally beautiful as Circassian women.

 

Over the years, the mansion underwent several modifications and expansions, including the construction of one of Quito’s first reinforced concrete structures, designed by German architect Francisco Schmidt.


The lavish façade was far from being the palace’s sole allure. Within its spacious halls and corridors, one could find an ample collection of art, somewhat akin to a museum. Due to Jacinto’s political career, the building also became a popular venue for high-profile meetings among conservatives, something which further cemented its status as a hub for the rich and famous.

 

Following the death of Jacinto in 1950, and later his widow, María Luisa Flores, the mansion was abandoned and soon thereafter fell into a state of disrepair, leaving its sumptuous exterior and interior in tatters.

 

In the early 1990’s, their son and only heir, Manuel, opted to sell the complex to the municipality, which in turn embarked on a race against time to save the place from its impending demise. In fact, after decades where the neighborhood’s extravagant houses have been demolished in favor of nondescript blocks, Palacio de La Circasiana was among a handful of extant gems that stood the test of time.

 

Thanks to the municipal endeavor, the two-story estate was thoroughly renovated and regained much of its former glory, and is now home to the National Institute of Cultural Heritage. Better yet, the adjacent garden – Milo Park or as it more commonly known, Jardín de la Circasiana, was transformed into an eye-catching sculpture park.

 

Instead of the triumphal arch “Puerta de La Circasiana” that formerly adorned the garden and has since been relocated to the nearby El Ejido park, the wooded courtyard was endowed with a cluster of playful statues, a courtesy of the late illustrious artist Gonzalo Endara Crow.

 

Known primarily for his surreal-style paintings, Endara donated a couple of sculpted horses, all of which are decorated with colorful pieces of ceramics. The outdoor art installation comprises a pair of fighting stallions, several roaming horses and an azul-hued foal. Other works include a tree-like sculpture and a gazebo.

 

Take note that visitors who wish to explore the garden must first register for free at the entrance.