Loja is the capital of Ecuador's Loja Province. It is located in the Cuxibamba valley in the south of the country, sharing borders with the provinces of Zamora-Chinchipe and El Oro, and with Peru in the south. Loja holds a rich tradition in the arts, and for this reason is known as the Music Capital of Ecuador. The city is home to two major universities.
The city has a population of about 118,500, and is situated 2100 m (6890 ft) above sea level. It has a mild Andean climate, ranging between 16 and 30°C.
The Pan-American Highway runs past Loja.
The city of Loja was founded by Field Marshall Alonso de Mercadillo in 1548, and it is named for his hometown of Loxa in Spain. Originally located near La Toma in the Catamayo canton, the city was relocated to its present location (about 35km east) after a devastating earthquake. At nearly 500 years, it is one of the oldest cities in Ecuador. The city was also visited by Simón Bolívar in his campaign to unite Gran Colombia.
Loja was a departure point for the Amazon Basin and the El Dorado region for Spanish Conquistadors. It declared its independence of Spain on November 18, 1820.
The city of Loja has the distinction of being the first city in the country to be wired for electric power provided by a hydroelectric dam that was completed in the 1890s.
Loja is in the bottom of the broad glacial Cuxibamba valley. It lies between the humid Amazon Basin and the Peruvian sechura, and is comprised mainly of paramo, cloud-forest, and jungle. The valley borders the Podocarpus National Park, which is a massive cloud-forest reserve accessible through the Cajanuma gates just minutes outside the city. The Rio Zamora and Rio Malacatos flow through the city of Loja.
Loja has a mild Andean climate, generally warm during the days and colder and often wetter at night. The average temperature is 16 C (61 F). June and July brings an eastern drizzle with the trade winds, and is referred to as the "windy season." Due to its valley location, the city is often misty in the morning, clearing off towards the afternoon.
There is a thriving musical scene in Loja, in keeping with the city's reputation. There are numerous small music and salsa clubs, and it is not uncommon to hear Lojanos singing as they go about their day. On Sundays, the local police band performs in the Plaza de Independencia outside of San Sebastian Church.
The city is full of public artworks, including massive painted tile murals, frescoes, and statuary. Of particular note are the frescoes of Bolívar and Sucre that greet visitors as they pass through the gates of the city.
Located in downtown Loja, just off the central square, is the Central Bank Museum. It contains the archaeological, historical, and colonial history of the province and city of Loja. There are seven rooms in the museum, each detailing a different aspect of the area: the entrance hall, archaeology, nature, the colonial period, the 19th century, the important people of Loja, and arts and crafts.
This is housed in a 16-17th century convent, belonging to the colonial period. The museum preserves its images, domestic utensils, and instruments used by the nuns for self-flagellation. It also houses a collection of colonial religious artwork.
Opened in 2004, the Museum of Archaeology houses some 1,600 artifacts, many of which are from the Pre-Colombian period. There are three floors to the museum, organized by the age of the artifacts. The first floor houses Paleolithic and Neolithic artifacts and remnants of the Valdivia Culture. The second floor contains artifacts of the Tolita, Jamas Coaque, Bahía, and Guajala cultures. The third floor showcases articles from the Charchi, Imbabura, Panzaleo, Puruhuá, Casholoma, Tacalshapa, Manteña, Tardia, Milagro, Quevedo, Huancavilca, and Inca.
Situated on Av. Valdivieso and opened in 2004 the museum houses exhibits on the composers and musical history of Loja, from the Renaissance to the avante-garde. The collection spans nearly 200 years of history, with more than 7,000 musical scores and 65 instruments on display.
The museum, on the main floor of the Loja Provincial Government building, houses artifacts from the life of Matilde Hidalgo, the first woman to become a medical doctor in Ecuador, and also the first woman to vote in Latin America.
The gates of the city are modeled after the Coat of Arms of the city, presented by King Felipe II of Spain in 1571. The gate is on Av. Gran Colombia, and houses four galleries which show contemporary Lojano artwork, and a cafeteria and gift shop. A stunning view of the city is found by climbing the clock tower. Loja contains a number of historic churches; the city's board of tourism has approached finding them in a novel manner. Beginning at the Puerta de la Ciudad, one of the first thing a tourist will notice is a large orange stripe painted on the sidewalk. Following the stripe takes the interested on a self-guided tour of the main historic churches and areas of Loja.
The main Cathedral, a masterpiece in the colonial style, is located on the central square. It is home for six months of the year to the Virgin of Cisne, whose statue is carried on the backs of the faithful to and from the town of Cisne, 45 km north of Loja. The procession shuts the road to traffic twice a year, and it is a mark of pride among Lojanos to participate. Original adobe in the cathedral building dates from the 1500s; the current building dates from 1838 (previous edifices were lost to earthquakes. The Cathedral is one of the largest churches in Ecuador. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Loja.
The small Church of San Francisco houses the city's Franciscan convent. The church was built in 1548 and then rebuilt in 1851. The plaza, located on the corner of Av. Bolivar and Av. Colon, features a monument to Alonso de Mercadillo, founder of the city.
The Church of Santo Domingo was built in 1557; the entire edifice was once in the Gothic style, but after an earthquake in 1867 only the twin spires remained standing. The church was refinished in the colonial style, but the spires were left as a reminder of the former facade. The church was painted and decorated by notable Lojano Fray Enrique Mideros. In the plaza of the church stands a monument to Manuel Carrión Pinzano, a founder in 1853 of the Federalism movement in Loja.
In 1660, the city of Loja was consecrated to St. Sebastian in order to prevent destruction by earthquakes. The present church dates from 1900. Perhaps the most notable landmark of Loja stands on the Plaza San Sebastian (also called the Plaza of Independence) - the 32 meter clock tower commemorates the declaration of independence from the Spanish Crown on November 18th, 1820. The tower has four faces with brass bas relief depicting scenes from the city's history.
There are numerous other monuments to famous Lojanos and Ecuadorians. Central Square contains the monument to Bernardo Valdivieso, the founder of Loja's universities; a monument to Bolívar is housed in a park of the same name to commemorate his visit to Loja in October 1822. A monument to Pío Jaramillo stands on the south end of the avenue bearing his name, and at the junction of Av. Jaramillo and Av. Carrión stands a monument to Benjamin Carrion. A monument to Isidro Ayora stands in the roundabout in front of the bus terminal. For more information on these and other historic Loja residents, see the section on notable natives and residents.
In the north of the city, Jipiro Park covers more than 10 hectares and is notable for its scale reproductions of historic and cultural buildings. The park boasts a pagoda, mosque, St. Basil's cathedral, a medieval castle, and many more, as well as a lake for paddle-boating with an island aviary.
Next to Jipiro on the eastern and western shores of the Rio Zamora, is a huge greenspace with a public carting race track, riding trails, an orchid nursery, and the Loja zoo.
On a hill called Pucará Podocarpus, this is a children's park with playground equipment and a beautiful scenic view. It is located on the city's former drinking water treatment plant.
Just 5 km outside of Loja and belonging to the National University, are 4 hectares of plants native to the provinces of Loja, Zamora Chinchipe, and El Oro. Most of the trees in this garden are over 40 years old, and the park is one of the world's highest-altitude botanical gardens.
Notable schools are the Universidad Nacional de Loja, which offers programs in Law, Agricultural Sciences, Education, Medicine, Veterinary sciences, Business, Science and Technology, and Fine Arts. The Loja campus of the Universidad Internacional del Ecuador, in partnership with Harvard University, and the International University of Florida, offers Business Engineering, Finance, Marketing, Ecotourism, Foreign Trade, Economics, Law, Industrial Design, and Interior Design. Finally, the Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja offers local and distance education in Trades, Administration, Humanities, and Biology.
Streets are laid out on a grid system, and named for notable Ecuadorians and city founding dates. Paved walkways frame the two rivers and provide easy access north and south through the city. There are several bus lines running in the city, and also many cabs. However, unless it is for great distances, people walk. There is a bus station at the north end of the city, with routes connecting to the rest of Ecuador, and into Peru. Loja is served by La Toma airport in Catamayo, 45 km distant. From there, it is possible to fly to Quito or Guayaquil. La Toma is served by Tame and Icaro airlines.
Loja is regarded as a seat of Ecuadorian culture. A local saying is: "The one who does not play the guitar can sing a song; the one who does not sing a song can write a verse; the one who does not write a verse reads a book."
Just outside of Loja are the valleys of Vilcabamba and Malacatos.