The city occupies a small basin in the great central plateau formed by the volcano Pichincha, the Puengasi ridge, and ridges formed by spurs from the eastern side of Pichincha. The land upon which Quito is built is uneven and is traversed by two deep ravines (quebradas), one of which is arched over in great part to preserve the alignment of the streets, the drainage of which escapes through a cleft in the ridge northward to the plain of Tumbaco.
Quito (2,850 m above sea level) derives its name from the Quitus, who inhabited the region a long time before the Spanish conquest. In 533 Sebastian Benalcazar took peaceable possession of the native town, which had been successively a capital of the Seyris and the Incas, and in 1541 it was elevated to the rank of a Spanish city.
Its full title was San Francisco del Quito, and it was the capital of the province or presidency of Quito down to the end of Spanish colonial rule. It has suffered repeatedly from earthquakes, the greatest damage occurring from those of 1797 and 1859 but the city has the best preserved and least altered historic centre in Latin America.