Quitoloma: Commanding Sites in Forgotten Places

By N. H. Gill
(July 2020) — Quitoloma is an Incan fortress on a hill above El Quinche, east of Quito. The site was part of what is known as the Pambamarca fortress complex, thought to be the largest pre-Colombian military site in the Americas. Excellent research by Dr. Samuel Connell, et al. about the site can be found at the Pambamarca Archaeology Project.

Quitoloma, western entrance, July 2020. Photograph by N. H. Gill.

Located at an elevation of 11,800 feet (3,600 m) above sea level, the site was used by the Incas as a fortress, forming part of what historian Frank Salomon referred to as an Andean Maginot Line that separated the Incas from the Kayambi and Carangui people to the north during an almost two-decade war in the early sixteenth century.

Known for its vast road systems, irrigation works, and veneration of the sun, the Incan empire was the largest pre-Colombian state in the Americas. Encompassing more than 3,100 miles (5,000 km) of highlands, jungles, and coastal territories from Colombia south to Chile, the Incan state dominated western South America in the century before European contact. When Francisco Pizarro and his company of Spanish conquistadores landed on the beaches of northern Peru in 1532, they compared its cities and roads with the splendor of ancient Rome. Quitoloma is located along the Incan highway system, known as the Qhapac Ñan.

Quitoloma, July 2020. Photograph by N. H. Gill.

For the Incas, the region of what is today Ecuador became the crown jewel of the Andean empire. Rich in land, water, and sun, and where the majority of the population lived, the Ecuadorian Andes were ideal for producing the valuable maize and coca crops that fueled the state’s economic and military expansion. The Ecuadorian Anders were also understood to be a more comfortable seat for the Sun god, Inti, than areas further south, like the Incas’ native Cuzco.

Today, the site is reached by heading 11 km west along an unpaved road from El Quinche towards Chumillos.

Road map from El Quinche to Quitoloma.


Bray, Tamara L. “Archaeological Survey in Northern Highland Ecuador: Inca Imperialism and the País Caranqui.” World Archaeology 24, no. 2 (October 1992): 218–33. https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.1992.9980204.

Cabello Valboa, Miguel. Miscelánea  Antártica: Una Historia Del Peru Antiguo, 1586. Lima: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 1951.

Espinoza Soriano, Waldemar. Los Cayambes y Carangues: Siglos XV-XVI : El Testimonio de La Etnohistoria. Vol. 1. Colección Curiñán. Quito: Instituto Otavaleño de Antropología, 1988.

Larraín Barros, Horacio. Demografía y Asentamientos Indígenas En La Sierra Norte Del Ecuador En El Siglo XVI: Estudio Etnohistórico de Las Fuentes Tempranas, 1525-1600. Colección Pendoneros. Otavalo, Ecuador: Instituto Otavaleño de Antropología, 1980.

Salomon, Frank. Native Lords of Quito in the Age of the Incas: The Political Economy of North-Andean Chiefdoms. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Valarezo F., Galo Ramón. La resistencia andina: Cayambe 1.500-1.800. Quito: Centro Andino de Accion Popular, 1987.

Cover photograph: View of Quito from Quitoloma, July 2020. Photograph by N. H. Gill.

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