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The centre of the world

Quito, the capital of a country that was named after the Equator, lies in the Southern Hemisphere. However, it is less than 20 kilometres to the line that divides the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The place where French scientist Charles-Marie de La Condamine determined the (more or less) precise location of the Equator, is now marked by a large monument: La Mitad del Mundo, the centre of the world.

Although modern measuring techniques have determined that the real Equator actually lies approximately 240 metres further north, the Mitad del Mundo monument remains a popular attraction. The monument is part of a complex of shops and attractions on the edge of the sleepy town of San Antonio de Pichincha. The town comes alive on Sundays and holidays, when it hosts a weekly market with music and dance.

On the edge of the Equator
On the edge of the Equator

Quito

Ethnographic museum

The Museum of Ethnology

The 30-metre-high monument – topped by a metal globe – houses an ethnographic museum that showcases Ecuador’s different ethnic groups. Your visit begins with an elevator ride to the top, from where you descend steps to reach the museum. You may also visit a series of pavilions, one for each of the countries that participated in the 18th century expedition to determine the location of the Equator. If you have limited time, visit the French pavilion which is extremely interesting. Finally, there is the Fundación Quito Colonial, a miniature representation of the Ecuadorian cities of Guayaquil, Cuenca and Quito.

Is this the location of the Equator?

The elusive zero degree line

Wherever the magic location of latitude 0° 0' 0" may be, it is certainly not at the site of the monument. But considering the limited tools and resources available during that expedition, it is quite an achievement that they were only off by a few hundred yards. Today, most visitors simply use a GPS integrated into their camera or phone to walk to the exact location of the Equator. However, this method is also not 100% reliable.

The claim that the nearby Museo Intiñan stood on the exact location of the Equator has not been confirmed either. But the location is close enough that one can perform various unique experiments. The most famous one demonstrates the so-called Coriolis effect: when you pour water over a sphere north of the Equator, the water will flow clockwise, and south of the Equator it will flow counter-clockwise. Another interesting fact is that on the Equator you will weigh a little bit less than anywhere else on earth.

Perfect balance on the zero degree line

Photo credits

  • Ethnographic museum: Eric Schmuttenmaer, Flickr
  • Perfect balance on the zero degree line: Eric Schmuttenmaer, Flickr