This post was originally going to be solely about the flag of Equador. However, it is almost impossible to examine the flag of Ecuador without also looking at the flags of Colombia (right) and Venezuela (center). As we will find out, they all look very similar for a reason.
Present day Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela were all once a part of Gran Colombia, a short-lived South American republic. This history of Gran Colombia is a bit too complicated to cover succinctly in this post. The important part that Gran Colombia plays in this story is that they adopted the Venezuelan flag design of General Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan revolutionary.
There ended up being four variations of the Gran Colombian flag created between 1819-1830. While each flag has subtle variations such as different coats of arms and different proportions of the colors, they all featured de Miranda’s trademark; a tricolor design of yellow, blue, and red. These colors were chosen because of a conversation de Miranda had with philosopher and friend Johann Wolfgang von Goethe at a party in 1785. Dazzled by de Miranda’s stories of his exploits in the American Revolutionary War and other travels, Goethe commented that “Your destiny is to create in your land a place where primary colours are not distorted.€ de Miranda clarified what Goethe meant in this statement:
First he explained to me the way the iris transforms light into the three primary colours […] then he proved to me why yellow is the most warm, noble and closest to [white] light; why blue is that mix of excitement and serenity, a distance that evokes shadows; and why red is the exaltation of yellow and blue, the synthesis, the vanishing of light into shadow.
It is not that the world is made of yellows, blues and reds; it is that in this manner, as if in an infinite combination of these three colours, we human beings see it. […] A country [Goethe concluded] starts out from a name and a flag, and it then becomes them, just as a man fulfills his destiny.
de Miranda died before Gran Colombia was founded, but he did live long enough to help Venezuela become an independent nation from Spain. The newly-formed nation adopted his design for a flag. Additional symbolism often attributed to the colors is that yellow represents “golden Venezuela”, separated from “bloody Spain” (red) by the sea (blue).
As Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela eventually became independent nations from Gran Colombia, they each continued to use the primary colors as the base of their flags. While variations were used as early as 1835, the current Ecuadorian flag was finalized in 1900. It features a horizontal tricolor of yellow, blue, and red with the yellow portion of the field equal in size to the blue and red portions combined and features Ecuador’s coat of arms.