Ibarra History:  Bloody Battles and Famous Ice Cream

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Ibarra has a known history of battles that span a period of time from the Inca conquest.  Fierce local tribes were able to resist Incan rule for many years, culminating in a battle so bloody that the waters of a lake turned red.  In the colonial era, the liberator of South America, Simon Bolivar, fought his only battle in Ecuador.

Caranqui, the ancient center of Ibarra

Locals call the town of Caranqui the “centro antiguo” of Ibarra. This small suburb of Ibarra is nestled at the base of Imbabura volcano’s north slope. Pre-Colombian tolas, or earth mounds, were grouped in this area.

Caranqui is worth a visit if you are in Ibarra.  It’s only a short bus ride from the Ibarra bus terminal or grab a cab. There you will find several fine Inca remains.

One ruin recently discovered on the site of an adobe brick factory and currently being reconstructed consists of the same incredible Inca cut stone found in Cusco, Peru. The structure is partly underground, about 10x20 meters with short stone walls, perhaps a bath.

A Spaniard named Cieza de León visited the area in 1546 and recorded that there was a fine “estanque” with other buildings situated a plaza.  He called the tank, or pool, “hecho de piedra muy prima,” as were the other structures, all tight-fitting, exquisitely cut stone.  He may very well have been describing the newly-discovered subterranean structure.

He further indicated that there was also a Temple of the Sun, full of gold and silver vessels.  His eye-witness account states that Inca fighters were quartered in Caranqui.

Caranqui is Atahualpa’s birthplace

Historians believe that Caranqui was either built by the Inca ruler Huayna Capac after he conquered the area or by Huayna Capac’s son Atahualpa, after his father’s death.  It is generally regarded as the birthplace of Atahualpa.

In any case, the area is one of great historical, religious and ceremonial significance, since Huayna Capac and Atahualpa both figure prominently in Ecuadorian history.  Atahualpa was the last Inca emperor, captured by Francisco Pizarro and held for ransom until rooms were filled with gold and silver.  Even though the ransom was paid, the Spaniards executed Atahualpa anyway.

There is a small museum to Atahualpa in Caranqui with a statue of Atahualpa outside the building.

Archeological studies show that there are other buried architectural features in the same area. A burial pit was also found on the site.

Click here to read the entire article about the excavations at Caranqui.

There are two ancient stone walls with doors and niches that still stand near Caranqui’s main church.  They were part of a large Incan edifice, perhaps a large hall, or kallanka.

Laguna Yahuarcocha, the Lake of Blood

Caranqui  is about 2 km north of Ibarra and 5 km south of Laguna Yaguarcocha, known as the Lake of Blood. The lake’s name comes from legends that record the story of how the Caranquis, an indigenous people, along with other tribes in the area, were able to resist Inca domination for 17 years.

When  Huayna Capac finally conquered the tribes, legend has it that he massacred all of the Caranqui males over 12 years of age and had their bodies dumped into the lake, which turned red with blood. Thus its nickname to this day. Historians date the subjugation of the Caranquis between 1492 and 1500 A.D.

Spanish Founding of the City of Ibarra

The Spanish founded Ibarra in 1606.  It is the capital of Imbabura Province. Many public buildings and fine churches were built by the Spaniard conquerors, but many were destroyed by an earthquake in August of 1868.

Click here to read a fascinating newspaper article from the Panama Star and Herald, Aug. 31, 1868.

Simon Bolivar Fought in Ibarra

Ibarra was the only place in Ecuador where Simon Bolivar actually fought.   July 17, 1823, “El Libertador” Simon Bolivar led rebel  troups into battle against the Spanish forces of Agustin Agualongo.   After hearing that Agualongo had defeated another rebel leader, Bolivar marched his men on a seven-day trek to Otavalo, then engaged Agualongo on the streets of Ibarra, near the Hacienda La Victoria, where he won a decisive battle at  “La Piedra Chapetona.”  Each year there is commemorative ceremony to recall Bolivar’s victory.

An Earthquake Makes a Coconut Tree Famous

In 1868 an earthquake devastated Ibarra and much of the surrounding areas.  A German engineer named Ruger came to Ibarra in 1872 and created a new city plan for Ibarra.  He used the coconut palm, which is now 140 years old, as his center point for surveying the city.

Just outside Yura Tour, the travel agency and tourist information center near the coconut palm, is a statue commemorating the rebuilding of the city.

Ibarra’s Famous Ice Cream—Helado de Paila

Helados de paila, a handmade ice-cream or sorbet, was first made in Ibarra by the indigenous during Incan times.  With snow or ice from Imbabura, the nearby volcano, they packed the ice with straw into a large pan, then added fruit juices and cane sugar, sometimes milk to a large bronze pan called a paila.  The liquid was stirred rapidly until it froze, only a matter of minutes.

Helado de paila is a famous Ibarra treat and is still made the same way today.

However, more recent history attributes the discovery or invention of helado de paila to a woman named Rosalia Suarez, whose century-old recipe (1897) has been passed down to her descendants, many who have their own helado de paila parlors in Ibarra and other towns. Stories relate how she trekked into the mountains to return to Ibarra with snow and ice for her special frozen concoctions. Her original shop is on Olviedo 7-79 and Olmedo Calles.


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