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San Antonio de Pichincha, Ecuador

Middle of the World

An elaborate shrine dedicated to the four corners of the world unfortunately misses its mark. 

The dramatic monument commemorating the 1739 French Geodesic Mission that surveyed the equator, established the circumference of the earth and the length of the meter, proved so ornate that relocating it 240 meters to the correct location would be more trouble than it’s worth.

In 1936, geographer Luis Tufiño sponsored a 10-meter monument at the equator to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the French Geodesic Mission which charted the equator and measured the shape of the earth. The design of the monument seems inspired by a fictitious Incan pyramid imagined by the painter Frederic Edwin Church in the painting “Cayambe.” 

A larger monument of the same design was built on the site in 1979. A broad avenue lined with heroic busts of the members of the 1739 Geodesic Mission leads to a 30-meter tower topped by a 5-ton bronze globe balanced sideways on the line of the equator. The interior of the monument houses a small museum of Ecuadorian ethnography leading to an upper observation deck looking down on the valley and the little village of tourist attractions around the monument. The main attraction, however, is the painted line on the pavement marked Latitude 0° 0’ 0”, where all visitors take a photo straddling both hemispheres.

Sadly, the painted line and the location of the monument are misplaced. The original calculations by Tufiño to establish the equator have been proven incorrect by more accurate modern technology and the actual equator line runs about 240 meters north of the monument. In addition, the French Geodesic Mission it commemorates did not actually visit this site on their survey expedition. Still, the monument remains a curious shrine to an imaginary line which brought Ecuador its name and worldwide fame. 

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