La Antigua Provincia de Guayaquil: The Old Province of Guayaquil
The park’s name is a reference to the 18th and 19th centuries when historical documents evidence that the province of Guayaquil was much larger than its present size and encompassed most of Ecuador’s coastline, stretching from the current-day province of El Oro all the way to the limits of Esmeraldas (Ramirez 2009).
Three Zones: Lifestyle Park
The park is divided into three zones: Wildlife Zone, Urban Architectural Zone, and the Traditions Zone, all zones funneling into a central theme of lifestyle as they exhibit the elements that created the culture of Guayaquil.
Historian Willington Ramirez writes that the province of Guayaquil should be understood as a “community of enterprisers with a long history of maritime, fluvial, agro-mercantile, and export traditions. For this reason, country and city form part of an inseparable unity that characterize our history,” one that begins with the land of the Mullu and becomes the “Cocoa province.”
Land of the Mullu
The park opens at an exhibition of pre-hispanic times when the natives that inhabited the coastal region of Ecuador revered the mullu or spondylus, coloured and porcelain-like shells, which were the object of maritime trade between Andean peoples, its commerce extending even as far north as Mexico. Collected from the coastal waters of Ecuador and Peru, the mullu was the object of worship, mythic offerings, and jewellery and ornamentation for those who belonged to the elite (Hocquenghem 1993). The mullu was a precious commodity and currency for exchange.
Wildlife Zone: Four Ecosystems
Bridges and boardwalks take the visitor through the four ecosystems of the region: Tropical Dry Forest, Mangrove Forest, Flooded Plains Forest, and Drizzle Forest. Each ecosystem displays characteristic flora and fauna to educate and highlight the importance of conservation. The Mangrove Forest, for example, comprises five different mangrove species that grow and appear as a tangle of roots to form walls of thickets, known as transition zones between land and sea, straddling both, protecting land from salinity and stabilizing shores by acting as natural wave breakers. Mammals, from the monkeys on monkey island to Hoffman’s two-toed sloths, hanging upside down in trees (as they do their entire lives) to reptiles such as the caiman, and birds such as macaws and parrots are seen in their natural habitats.
Urban Architectural Zone
Charming historical buildings are on display in this zone, the result of El Banco Central, the Central Bank, saving these buildings from demolition and eternal patrimonial loss. In the 1980’s they were dismantled and transferred to their present site, where they were reassembled, reconstructed, and restored. The Banco Territorial, the Casa Julián Coronel, the Casa Lavayén Paredes, and the Hospicio del Corazón de Jesus, were all once part of Guayaquil’s nucleus and each edifice imparts an intriguing piece of history. The Casa Lavayén Paredes, for example, belonged to one of Guayaquil’s wealthiest families, who made their fortune from cocoa and coffee plantations and export houses, an example of the “inseparable unity” Ramirez describes.
Traditions Zone: Cocoa Boom
Considered the commodity of one of Ecuador’s greatest economic eras, cocoa takes on a leading role in Guayaquil’s history. The traditions zone displays the coast’s agricultural and rural lifestyle with a focus on cocoa. The area surrounding Guayaquil was ideal for growing cocoa and its shipments necessarily passed through the city’s port facilities. At the turn of the 19th century, Ecuador was the world’s leading producer of cocoa, providing 20-25% of world production, a boom later devastated, however, by crop disease and depressed global prices during the post-First World War era (Ton, Hagelaar, Laven, Vellema 2008).
The San Juan Farm House and the Peasant House bring this rural culture to life. Both are homes of the people dedicated to and who worked the land, though of distinct social level. The first was built in 1882 from native woods and imported pine and through its tile roof protrudes a bell tower and bronze bell rung to summon workers from their labours. The peasant house is made of native woods and walls of cane and topped with a thatched roof. These homes were set in the midst of small plots of crops, such as cocoa and coffee, poultry coops, and cattle, and the personages represented are those of the “Montubio,” rural inhabitants of the coast, well known in the Ecuadorean media for their traditions in rodeo and ranching as well as song, dance, and a piquant satire the park presents during its theatrical shows.
These gardens include a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs to educate the visitor in concepts of organic farming, urban agricultural production, and the region’s ancestral knowledge of medicinal, ornamental, and alimentary plants. It is a place where urbanites can admire a botanical diversity cultivated in minimal space, a showcase for the knowledge of past generations as well as a means to appreciate the labour of peasant farming.
A Characterization of Guayaquil
The Historical Park of Guayaquil is the culture of the province by the sea and port of commerce, the gateway connecting the interior to the rest of the world, progressive in nature, and always looking toward the horizon.