The beautiful farmhouse of San Augustin de Callo, Ecuador housed an Augustinian community for two centuries. It is situated at Lasso, seventy seven kilometres south of Quito, Ecuador along the Avenue of the Volcanoes.
As seen (above) in this famous painting of 1855, San Augustin de Callo is in sight of the Andes, and especially of Cotopaxi, which with its base level of 10,000 feet is the highest active volcano in the world. Nestled in the foothills of the Cotopaxi volcano, the hacienda is built on the site of an important Inca building.
This is one of only two major Inca sites in Ecuador. (Most Inca sites are in Peru.) This building was constructed about the year 1440 by one of the last Inca emperors, Huayna Cápac. Why did Huayna Cápac build it? Was he making a northern palace for himself, or did he build it as a temple devoted to the spirits of the nearby Cotopaxi volcano? Or was it merely a way station on the Inca road of 1,500 kms from Cuenca in southern Peru to Quito in northern Ecuador? Whatever the purpose, the Inca origin of the building has never been doubted.
The earliest and the most important European documents about Inca activity in Ecuador relate to the hacienda at San Agustín de Callo, due south of Cusco in the Andes, which belonged to the members of the Order of Saint Augustine. The Order had received these lands from Philip II, the King of Spain, about the year 1590 (which was fifty-seven years after their first arrival in Latin America in Mexico.).
Philip hoped to consolidate the Spanish conquest and to bring Christian religion to the natives by making grants of lands to religious orders so that they could establish missions among the Inca people. Here was conquest by "the Cross and the sword," which placed the Augustinians in a less than perfect position when it came to promoting the Gospel - but this was the case throughout Latin America and the Middle East and Far East for evangelisation at that time.
This hacienda acted as an Augustinian convento. It was formerly an Inca building, which the Augustinians then enlarged with the Spanish style of architecture amidst the older Inca buildings. Some of the original Inca stone walls remained, and still remain today (see Picture 2, below). These Augustinians became the witnesses of the life and death of the final Incas in Ecuador.
They also lived with the Incas in this region and undoubtedly were familiar with these landscapes and structures. As well, they knew areas further into the woods which the Inca chose for their refuge from the Spanish domination. The Augustinians attended the conversations held between the Spanish emissaries who attempted to demand the submission of the Incas to the Spanish crown and to the Christian faith. The Incas were under siege from the Spanish expeditions. The tension this caused affected the relationship between the Augustinians and the Inca leaders.
The presence of the Order of Saint Augustine in the region continued up until early in the 19th century, when the gaining of Independence from Spain for Ecuador led to the closure of many religious houses. These properties were taken by the government, which often then sold them to members of the public. Through the Augustinians and the documents which they left behind, we know that agricultural activities were conducted on vast expanses of land in the area during the Spanish colonial period.
The Augustinians were documenting the income from their lands and their native labour force. After the departure of the Augustinians early in the nineteenth century, the building went into private ownership. Its last sale was in 1921 to General Leonidas Plaza, who previously had twice been the President of Ecuador. His descendants now use the building as a working farmhouse, and also have six guest rooms for tourists.
The original Inca walls were built with volcanic rocks that were carved so smoothly and precisely that no mortar was required. The stones fit together perfectly. The site is currently being investigated by Dr. David Brown, an archaeologist of the University of Texas, the funding of which was provided by the National Geographic Society. David Brown has found previously unknown portions of Inca walls and foundations, which leads to the suggestion that the site may have had more importance to the Inca tribes than was previously thought.
The Order of Saint Augustine first came to Ecuador in 1573. Its Province of Ecuador was approved in 1579, but not implemented until 1601. It still operates.
Picture 1: The haceinda, with the Cotopaxi volcano covered with snow in the background. Picture 2: Inca walls in the hacienda. Picture 3: Guest room in the hacienda.Picture 4: Another guest room in the hacienda.
San Agustín de Callo. An Inca Hacienda at the foot of Cotopaxi in the Andes in Ecuador. It is located at Lasso, Cotopaxi 77 km south of Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. It is within sight of Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world. http://www.incahacienda.com