Popular legend has it that Guayaquil’s name comes from Guayas (the great Puna Indian chief who fought bravely against the Incas and then later against the Spanish), and Quill, the wife of Guayas, whom he is said to have killed before drowning himself, rather than allowing her to be captured by the conquistadors. However, several historians claim the city’s name comes from the words ‘Hua’ or land, and ‘Illa’ meaning beautiful prairie and ‘Quilca, ’ one of the Guyas River’s tributaries where the Quilca tribe lived until being wiped out in the 17th century. Thus Guayaquil is literally ‘the land like a beautiful prairie on the land of the Quilcas.’
Whatever the origin of the name, a settlement was first established in the area around 1534 until moving permanently to the Santa Ana Hill in 1547. The city was an important port and ship-building center for the Spanish, but it was plagued by pirate attacks and several devastating fires, including one in 1896 – known as the ‘Great Fire’ – in which huge parts of the city were simply burnt to the ground. Guayaquil achieved its independence from the Spaniards on October 9th, 1820 and was an independent province until Simón Bolívar annexed it as part of Gran Columbia in 1822. When Bolivar’s experiment and dream failed in 1830, Guayaquil became part of the newly formed republic of Ecuador.