Antigua Guatemala

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Antigua Guatemala
GT056-Antigua Arch-low.jpeg
Santa Catalina arch and Volcan de Agua in June 2005
Bandera de Sacatepequez.svg
Escudo de armas de Sacatepequez.svg
La Antigua or Antigua
Guatemala location map.svg
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Location in Guatemala
Coordinates: 14°34′N90°44′W / 14.567°N 90.733°W / 14.567; -90.733
Country Flag of Guatemala.svg Guatemala
Department Bandera de Sacatepequez.svg Sacatepéquez
Climate Cwb
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Criteria Cultural: ii, iii, iv
Reference 65
Inscription1979 (3rd Session)

Antigua Guatemala (Spanish pronunciation:  [anˈtigua guateˈmala] ), commonly referred to as just Antigua or la Antigua, is a city in the central highlands of Guatemala known for its preserved Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture as well as a number of ruins of colonial churches. It served as the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Guatemalan Highlands upland region in southern Guatemala, lying between the Sierra Madre de Chiapas to the south and the Petén lowlands to the north; made up of a series of high valleys enclosed by mountains

The Guatemalan Highlands is an upland region in southern Guatemala, lying between the Sierra Madre de Chiapas to the south and the Petén lowlands to the north. The highlands are made up of a series of high valleys enclosed by mountains. The local name for the region is Altos, meaning "highlands", which includes the northern declivity of the Sierra Madre. The mean elevation is greatest in the west and least in the east. A few of the streams of the Pacific slope actually rise in the highlands, and force a way through the Sierra Madre at the bottom of deep ravines. One large river, the Chixoy or Salinas River, escapes northwards towards the Gulf of Mexico. The relief of the mountainous country which lies north of the Highlands and drains into the Atlantic is varied by innumerable terraces, ridges and underfalls; but its general configuration is compared by E. Reclus with the appearance of "a stormy sea breaking into parallel billows". The parallel ranges extend east and west with a slight southerly curve towards their centres. A range called the Sierra de Chamá, which, however, changes its name frequently from place to place, strikes eastward towards Belize, and is connected by low hills with the Cockscomb Mountains; another similar range, the Sierra de Santa Cruz, continues east to Cape Cocoli between the Polochic and the Sarstoon; and a third, the Sierra de las Minas or, in its eastern portion, Sierra del Mico, stretches between the Polochic and the Motagua rivers. Between Honduras and Guatemala, the frontier is formed by the Sierra de Merendón.

Spain Kingdom in Southwest Europe

Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain, is a country mostly located in Europe. Its continental European territory is situated on the Iberian Peninsula. Its territory also includes two archipelagoes: the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The African enclaves of Ceuta, Melilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera make Spain the only European country to have a physical border with an African country (Morocco). Several small islands in the Alboran Sea are also part of Spanish territory. The country's mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with Gibraltar; to the north and northeast by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the west and northwest by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean.

Baroque cultural movement, starting around 1600

The Baroque is a highly ornate and often extravagant style of architecture, music, dance, painting, sculpture and other arts that flourished in Europe from the early 17th until the mid-18th century. It followed the Renaissance style and preceded the Rococo and Neoclassical styles. It was encouraged by the Catholic Church as a means to counter the simplicity and austerity of Protestant architecture, art and music, though Lutheran Baroque art developed in parts of Europe as well. The Baroque style used contrast, movement, exuberant detail, deep colour, grandeur and surprise to achieve a sense of awe. The style began at the start of the 17th century in Rome, then spread rapidly to France, northern Italy, Spain and Portugal, then to Austria and southern Germany. By the 1730s, it had evolved into an even more flamboyant style, called rocaille or Rococo, which appeared in France and central Europe until the mid to late 18th century.


Antigua Guatemala serves as the municipal seat for the surrounding municipality of the same name. It also serves as the departmental capital of Sacatepéquez Department.

Sacatepéquez Department Department in Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala

Sacatepéquez is one of the 22 departments of Guatemala. Population estimate 265,500 in 2000. The name comes from Sacatepéquez, a city from November 21, 1542 until July 29, 1773 when it was destroyed by the 1773 Guatemalan Earthquake. Sacatepéquez means grasshill in the Nahuatl Language. The capital of Sacatepéquez is Antigua Guatemala which is home to an extensive textile marketplace and Plaza Major. Other important cities include Ciudad Vieja and San Lucaswhich is also hosts another popular marketplace and is a culinary attraction. The Chajoma were a group of indigenous people who were Kaqchikel speaking Indians identified Mixco Viejo as their capital, and spread throughout the Sacatepequez Department until their capital was moved to Ciudad Vieja, in Antigua.


Construction of the Cathedral of Santiago de Guatemala in 1678. Painting by Antonio Ramirez Montufar "Construction of the Cathedral of Santiago de Guatemala" 1678 by Antonio Ramirez Montufar.jpg
Construction of the Cathedral of Santiago de Guatemala in 1678. Painting by Antonio Ramírez Montúfar

The city had a peak population of some 60,000 in the 1770s; the bulk of the population moved away in the late 18th century. Despite significant population growth in the late 20th century, the city had only reached half that number by the 1990s. At the time of the 2007 census, the city had 34,685 inhabitants. [ citation needed ]


Facade of the former El Carmen church in 2009 Antigua guatemala ruins 2009.JPG
Façade of the former El Carmen church in 2009

Antigua Guatemala means "Old Guatemala" and was the third capital of Guatemala. The first capital of Guatemala was founded on the site of a Kakchikel-Maya city, now called Iximche, on Monday, July 25, 1524—the day of Saint James—and therefore named Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Goathemalan (City of Saint James of the Knights of Guatemala). Naturally, St. James became the patron saint of the city. [ citation needed ]

Iximche human settlement

Iximcheʼ is a Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican archaeological site in the western highlands of Guatemala. Iximche was the capital of the Late Postclassic Kaqchikel Maya kingdom from 1470 until its abandonment in 1524. The architecture of the site included a number of pyramid-temples, palaces and two Mesoamerican ballcourts. Excavators uncovered the poorly preserved remains of painted murals on some of the buildings and ample evidence of human sacrifice. The ruins of Iximche were declared a Guatemalan National Monument in the 1960s. The site has a small museum displaying a number of pieces found there, including sculptures and ceramics. It is open daily.

Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala

Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala was the name given to the capital city of the Spanish colonial Captaincy General of Guatemala in Central America.

James, son of Zebedee One of JesusTwelve Apostles

James, son of Zebedee was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, traditionally considered the first apostle to be martyred.

After several Kaqchikel uprisings, the capital was moved to a more suitable site in the Valley of Almolonga (place of water) on November 22, 1527, and kept its original name. This new city was located on the site of present-day San Miguel Escobar, [1] which is a neighborhood in the municipality of Ciudad Vieja. [2] This city was destroyed on September 11, 1541 by a devastating lahar from the Volcán de Agua. [3] As a result, the colonial authorities decided to move the capital once more, this time five miles away to the Panchoy Valley. So, on March 10, 1543 the Spanish conquistadors founded present-day Antigua, and again, it was named Santiago de los Caballeros. [ citation needed ] For more than 200 years, it served as the seat of the military governor of the Spanish colony of Guatemala, a large region that included almost all of present-day Central America and the southernmost State of Mexico: Chiapas.

Kaqchikel people ethnic group

The Kaqchikel are one of the indigenous Maya peoples of the midwestern highlands in Guatemala. The name was formerly spelled in various other ways, including Cakchiquel, Cakchiquel, Kakchiquel, Caqchikel, and Cachiquel.

Ciudad Vieja Municipality and town in Sacatepéquez, Guatemala

Ciudad Vieja is a municipality in the Guatemalan department of Sacatepéquez. According to the 2002 Guatemalan Census, the municipality has a total of 25,696 people. Ciudad Vieja was the second site of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, the colonial capital of the country.


A lahar is a violent type of mudflow or debris flow composed of a slurry of pyroclastic material, rocky debris and water. The material flows down from a volcano, typically along a river valley.

Santiago de los Caballeros was the third seat of the capital called kingdom of Guatemala, which included the current states of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, besides modern state of Chiapas in Mexico. After a flood destroyed the second city, located in the Valley of Almolonga, on the slopes of Volcán de Agua a new city was built in 1543 in the Valley of Panchoy, and it was established as head of the Real Audiencia of Guatemala in 1549. [4] During its development and splendor, it was known as one of the three most beautiful cities of the Spanish Indies.[ citation needed ]

Belize country in Central America

Belize is an independent and sovereign country located on the north eastern coast of Central America. Belize is bordered on the northwest by Mexico, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, and on the south and west by Guatemala. It has an area of 22,970 square kilometres (8,867 sq mi) and a population of 387,879 (2017). Its mainland is about 180 mi (290 km) long and 68 mi (110 km) wide. It has the lowest population and population density in Central America. The country's population growth rate of 1.87% per year (2015) is the second highest in the region and one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere.

El Salvador country in Central America

El Salvador, officially the Republic of El Salvador, is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. It is bordered on the northeast by Honduras, on the northwest by Guatemala, and on the south by the Pacific Ocean. El Salvador's capital and largest city is San Salvador. As of 2016, the country had a population of approximately 6.34 million.

Honduras republic in Central America

Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras, is a country in Central America. In the past, it was sometimes referred to as "Spanish Honduras" to differentiate it from British Honduras, which later became modern-day Belize. The republic of Honduras is bordered to the west by Guatemala, to the southwest by El Salvador, to the southeast by Nicaragua, to the south by the Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of Fonseca, and to the north by the Gulf of Honduras, a large inlet of the Caribbean Sea.

The city was laid out in a square pattern, with streets running north to south and from east to west, with a central square. Both church and government buildings were designated important places around the central plaza. [5] [Note 1] Between 1549 and 1563, property southeast of the square was sold to the crown and occupied by the first president of the Real Audiencia de los Confines: the lawyer Alonso Lopez Cerrato, who also served as governor and captain general. [5] [Note 2] The original building was small and paneled with portal, tile roof, and adobe walls. The city is surrounded by three enormous volcanoes and mountains, plains and hills. This territory was called "Valley of Guatemala" and had 73 villages, two towns and the city of Santiago de los Caballeros. [6]

Due to constant problems between the conquerors and the representatives of the crown sent by the king of Spain, the Audiencia de los Confines was abolished in 1565. [Note 3] In 1570 the assembly was restored, this time independent of the viceroy of Mexico and the new organization was called Audiencia of Guatemala. [7]

The Franciscan friars were the first to move into the valley Panchoy, the new capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala, and built a chapel on the site where later the Church Escuela de Cristo would be erected. This primitive chapel was destroyed in 1575 by an earthquake and during the next ten years collections were made to build the new complex, two blocks from the previous one. [Note 4] The Franciscan complex became a major cultural and religious center for the entire Captaincy General of Guatemala: Theologians, jurists, philosophers, physicists, and mathematicians studied in the school of San Buenaventura, which was located where the monastery ruins are. Notable students included Cristóbal de Villalpando, Thomas Merlo, and Alonso de Paz.

Mermaid Fountain, built by Diego de Porres in 1737, Antigua Guatemala central square Plaza central, Antigua Guatemala.JPG
Mermaid Fountain, built by Diego de Porres in 1737, Antigua Guatemala central square

The first building of a cathedral was begun in 1545 with the debris brought from the destroyed settlement in the valley of Almolonga; however, its construction was hampered by frequent earthquakes throughout the years. [9] The city was the final resting place of the great Spanish chronicler Bernal Díaz del Castillo, and his remains were interred in one of the churches that was eventually ruined by earthquakes.

The construction of the royal houses for the residence of the Captain General and the members of the Real Audiencia started in 1558; the complex also included the Royal Treasury, jail, Army quarters, the Hall of Arms, and the housing of Audiencia members. [5]

In the sixteenth century, there were several important earthquakes on the following dates:

In 1566 King Felipe II of Spain gave it the title of "Muy Noble y Muy Leal" ("Very Noble and Very Loyal").

17th-century events

Replica of Jesus of Santa Clara Jesussantaclar.jpg
Replica of Jesus of Santa Clara

The Jesuits founded the school of "San Lucas of the Society of Jesus" in 1608, which became famous and was unrivaled in terms of literature and grammar lessons; it was attended by the elite nobles of the city society, such as Francisco Antonio Fuentes y Guzman, the chronicler Francisco Vázquez, and Pedro Betancourt. [11] On 18 July 1626, the Jesuit temple was inaugurated; along with the rest of the city, it suffered and was damaged by continuous earthquakes that struck the city between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. [12]

The monks of San Juan de Dios founded their hospital and monastery in 1636 and thereafter were in charge of the hospitals in the Kingdom of Guatemala. Their hospitals were:

The temple of the Escuela de Cristo -School of Christ- was founded in the parish of Our Lady of Remedios in 1664 and from 1689 onward it was known as the Congregation of San Felipe de Neri. Meanwhile, around 1690, the Jesuits founded another school: the "San Francisco de Borja" where the poet and priest Rafael Landivar, S.J., eventually would study and serve as principal.

In the seventeenth century there were two types of nuns: discalced and urban. [14]

AttributeDiscalced nunsUrban nuns
DesignationCommunity lifePrivate life
Admission costNoneDonation in goods or property to produce revenues for the congregation
PrayerIn the chorusIn the chorus
Austerity rulesStrict: depended on tithing, silent at all times, except to pray and never drank chocolate. [Note 5] Relaxed: could have external income and were allowed to drink chocolate, except during fasting.
RoomsCommon life in recreation rooms of work. They had a tiny "celda" which they only use to sleep.No common life at all. They lived in a large cell that was practically a small size house.
FeedingThey ate together in silence in dining halls. They could not eat meat.They prepared their own food. They were allowed to eat meat unless they were fasting.
HelpThey had to perform all the monastery chores, or work in community service for the congregation.They could have personal servants and slaves.
ClothingAustere rustic clothes fibers.Fine clothes; often wore jewelry.
FootwearSimple sandalsShoes or slippers.
Special attributesNoneTutors of girls entrusted to the convent.

Saint Hermano Pedro

Pedro de San José Betancourt came to Guatemalan land in 1650 from his native Tenerife. Upon arrival he suffered a serious illness, during which he had the first opportunity to be with the poor and dispossessed. After his recovery he wanted to pursue ecclesiastical studies but unable to do so, professed as a Franciscan tertiary in the Convent of San Francisco in Santiago de los Caballeros. He founded shelters for the poor, indigenous, and homeless, and founded the Order of the Brothers of Our Lady of Bethlehem in 1656, to serve the poor. [15] Santo Hermano Pedro wrote several books, including: Instruction De la Cruz's brother, Crown of the Passion of Jesus Christ our good or Rules Confraternity Betlemitas. He is considered the great evangelist of the West Indies, just as San Francisco Javier is to the East Indies. Brother Pedro attended to the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying, and was an early promoter of Human Rights. Additionally, he was the first literacy advocate in America, and the Order of Betlemitas in turn was the first religious order born in the Americas. The Santo Hermano Pedro was a man ahead of his time, both in his methods of teaching reading and writing to the illiterate and in medical patient treatment.[ citation needed ]

Royal and pontifical University of San Carlos Borromeo

Royal and Pontifical University of San Carlos Borromeo. Picture from 1971 Antigua university courtyard.JPG
Royal and Pontifical University of San Carlos Borromeo. Picture from 1971

Francisco Marroquín, first bishop of Guatemala, sent the Spanish King a letter in 1548, asking for a superior education institution for Guatemala, but the letter went unanswered. Towards the end of his life, in 1562, Marroquín left some money in his will to establish a school -which eventually was the "Santo Tomás de Aquino school"- where grammar, arts, philosophy, and theology would be taught. Poor Spanish children would be the beneficiaries of this pious work, as they could not travel to those cities where there were universities already, such as México City in the New Spain. Historian John Tate Lanning said regarding this that, "Marroquín's testament is so famous, that many people who have not even laid eyes on it say that there are things in the document that are really not in it. Marroquín never talks about a University, much less establishing one..." [16] On the other hand, there is indeed a document from Mayor Pedro Crespo Suarez, who left twenty thousand pesos after his death to set up classes in the University that "was being asked of the crown". [17]

The Jesuits opposed a university establishment, given that they did not like the idea of having the other regular clergy orders -Mercedarians, Franciscans and Order of Preachers- taking the initiative in religious and educational issues. [17] In August 1655, the Society of Jesus had bought the whole lot from the Díaz del Castillo family and by then, their San Lucas School was well known in the region and it even granted two university degrees. [18] In 1653, the San Lucas School had a staff of only thirteen priests, a very small number compared to the size of the building; the Jesuits, however, made a major impact on the cultural and educational life in the Capitanía General of Guatemala. The school was the city's most prestigious, and from it graduated most of the elite members of society of the time. Most of its students were secular and went on to get the best positions in the country. [18]

After several decades, petitions, and lawsuits, king Carlos II expedited a royal decree, on January 31, 1676, allowing Capitanía General of Guatemala to establish its university or "General Study." [Note 6] After a lengthy and cumbersome organizational process that lasted five years, the university started classes on January 7, 1681, with more than sixty registered students under President Doctor José de Baños y Soto Mayor, Cathedral archdeacon, King of Spain preacher and Doctor from the University of Osuna. [17] The university began its activities under the protection of Saint Carlos Borromeo, and its norms and regulations were copied from those of the México University which, in turn, were adapted from those of the Universidad de Salamanca in Spain.

The first classes given in the university were:

  • Canonic law
  • Medicine
  • Scholastic theology
  • Moral theology
  • Languages

The Royal University of San Carlos Borromeo became pontifical via the Papal Bull of Pope Innocent XI, issued and dated 18 June 1687.[ citation needed ]

18th-century events

San Miguel Earthquake

A church damaged by an earthquake Antigua, Guatemala. Iglesia derruida.jpg
A church damaged by an earthquake

The strongest earthquakes experienced by the city of Santiago de los Caballeros before its final move in 1776 were the San Miguel earthquakes in 1717. At that time, the power of the Catholic Church over the Spanish Empire's citizens was absolute and any natural disaster was considered as divine punishment. In the city, people also believed that the proximity of the Volcán de Fuego (English: Volcano of Fire) was the cause of earthquakes; the great architect Diego de Porres even said that all the earthquakes were caused by volcano explosions. [19]

On August 27 there was a strong eruption of Volcán de Fuego, which lasted until August 30; the residents of the city asked for help to Santo Cristo of the Cathedral and to the Virgen del Socorro who were sworn patrons of the Volcan de Fuego. On August 29, a Virgen del Rosario procession took to the streets after a century without leaving her temple, and there were many more holy processions until 29 September, the day of San Miguel. Early afternoon earthquakes were minor, but at about 7:00 p.m. there was a strong earthquake that forced residents to leave their homes; tremors and rumblings followed until four o'clock. The neighbors took to the streets and loudly confessed their sins, bracing for the worst. [20]

The San Miguel earthquake damaged the city considerably, to the point that some rooms and walls of the Royal Palace were destroyed. There was also a partial abandonment of the city, food shortages, lack of manpower, and extensive damage to the city infrastructure, not to mention numerous dead and injured. [20] These earthquakes made the authorities consider moving to a new city less prone to seismic activity. City residents strongly opposed the move, and even took to the Royal Palace in protest; in the end, the city did not move, but the number of troops of the Army Battalion required to maintain order was considerable. [5] The damage to the palace were repaired by Diego de Porres, who finished repairs in 1720, although there are indications that there were additional work done by Porres until 1736. [5]

San Casimiro earthquake

On March 4, 1751, the San Casimiro earthquake destroyed the city of Santiago de Guatemala once more. The church roof of the Society of Jesus complex fell to the ground, forcing the Jesuits once again to ask for help from the parishioners to rebuild. Once again, the building was among the most beautiful in the city when the repairs were completed. [21] In fact, a period of prosperity began after the San Casimiro earthquake, as the city saw major improvements such as street embellishment and the introduction of a tap water system. A new City Hall was built, and on July 17, 1753, work on the Jesuit plaza in front of the church was finished. [21]

Santa Marta earthquake

Ruins of the Society of Jesus school yard in 1880
Ruins of the Society of Jesus church interior in 1880

On 12 June 1773 Captain General Martín de Mayorga was inaugurated, and alongside Cortés y Larráz and the regular clergy vicars, were the top authorities in the Kingdom of Guatemala and would be the main characters in the events that followed the 1773 earthquakes. [22]

In 1773, the Santa Marta earthquakes destroyed much of the town, which led to the third change in location for the city. [23] The Spanish Crown ordered, in 1776, the removal of the capital to a safer location, the Valley of the Shrine, where Guatemala City, the modern capital of Guatemala, now stands. This new city did not retain its old name and was christened Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción (New Guatemala of the Assumption), and its patron saint is Our Lady of the Assumption. The badly damaged city of Santiago de los Caballeros was ordered abandoned, although not everyone left, and was thereafter referred to as la Antigua Guatemala (the Old Guatemala). [23]

The Santa Marta earthquake practically demolished the church and sections of the convent of the Society of Jesus. Its cloisters and towers were in ruins, the walls were at dangerous angles, and the "Casa de Ejercicios" was turned into rubble. By a Royal decree of July 21, 1775, the city move to the "Virgin valley" was authorized. This was a final order that had to be obeyed by all the people, who started to move slowly, starting on December of that year. In order to build the new city it was necessary to get construction material from the old abandoned churches in Santiago de Guatemala. However, in the case of the Society of Jesus church, there was strong opposition from the neighbors to any possible dismantling of the structure since they considered that it could still be repaired. [24]

19th-century events

After the capital moved to La Ermita

Postmark ANTIGUA CANCELADO in 1887, after Guatemala joined the UPU. Note the Quetzal. 1887 Guatemala 1C Yv44.jpg
Postmark ANTIGUA CANCELADO in 1887, after Guatemala joined the UPU. Note the Quetzal.

After the independence of Guatemala from Spain in 1821, the Jesuit complex became public property once again and was in several lawsuits that lasted until 1829, when the regular clergy and the conservative Aycinena clan were expelled from Central America after the invasion of liberal general Francisco Morazán and the establishment of a secular government. [25] The new liberal government decreed that all the confiscated Catholic church possessions had to be turned into elementary schools and university classrooms. [24]

As of 1850, Antigua had an estimated population of 9,000. [26] and by 1865, the building was functioning as a vapor activated thread mill, but it was not profitable due to a lack of expert technicians and raw material; and by 1872, the Jesuits were once again expelled from Guatemala by the liberal regime of Justo Rufino Barrios. [27]

In 1884 City Hall made an announcement that it intended to transform the old Society of Jesus buildings into a market, in spite of the strong opposition from the neighbors that already had small shops on the plaza. It was until 1912 that a market was placed in the complex. [24]

20th-century events

Abandoned San Francisco Church ruins in 1916. Photographs by Arnold Genthe. Antiguagenthe1916 04.jpeg
Abandoned San Francisco Church ruins in 1916. Photographs by Arnold Genthe.
Circular single cell structure in the Capuchins convent, still in good standing, as described by prince Wilhelm of Sweden in 1920. Photograph by Arnold Genthe. Antiguagenthe1916 09.jpeg
Circular single cell structure in the Capuchins convent, still in good standing, as described by prince Wilhelm of Sweden in 1920. Photograph by Arnold Genthe.
A poor native family living in the ruins of Capuchins, as described by prince Wilhelm of Sweden in 1920. Photograph by Arnold Genthe. Antiguagenthe1916 14.jpeg
A poor native family living in the ruins of Capuchins, as described by prince Wilhelm of Sweden in 1920. Photograph by Arnold Genthe.

In April 1920, during the very last days of Manuel Estrada Cabrera regime, prince Wilhelm of Sweden visited Antigua Guatemala and wrote about his impressions of the city in his book Between two continents. [30] His book is an objective description of the terrible conditions the road and the ruins used to be in: "For some little way outside Guatemala City it was a fairly decent car ride, but then the roads began developing sand drifts, and later, rockfalls of tumbled stone as two years earlier, the country had been devastated by a powerful earthquake and government corruption made the recovery impossible". [31] "The hills grew steeper and steeper, the jolting more pronounced and the stones even sharper; besides, on top of the road was a two-foot layer of dust which hid the pitfalls but did not detract from their effect". [31] "Along the way, they passed long lines of Indians on their way to Guatemala City, carrying their heavy burdens with apparent ease; men, women and children carried something in the way of a load, and they all carried it quickly. With respect to traffic, it was almost non-existent, aside from mule-pulled wagons". [32]

After passing Mixco, the road proceeded more steeply upward, with a precipitous drop on one side and sheer cliff rising on the other; here and there a cross stood by the wayside, marking the spot where some traveler had died. After reaching the highest point, they started down towards Antigua. The city was in sight when a person in uniform planted himself in front of the car; it turned out to be the city commandant, along with six soldiers with wooden guns. [33] Compared to Guatemala City at the time, Antigua was quite nicely kept, although all the churches were equally dilapidated and left entirely to themselves, as rebuilding since 1773 was confined to the strictly necessary. For the most part, only blank walls and shattered domes remained to greet the visitor by 1920, [34] and some of the churches were in pitiful conditions. In Santa Clara, for example, a mule was grazing, and in the Church of Grace a native family had taken up its quarters, along with their varied collection of domestic animals. [35]

But there were other monuments in decent shape:

Antigua Guatemala in the 21st century

San Jose Parish in the former Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago. Guatemala 176.jpg
San José Parish in the former Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago.

Central Park – Parque Central – is the heart of the city, with the reconstructed fountain there acting as a popular gathering spot. To the north of the Central Park is the Arco de Santa Catalina, one of the most recognizable architectural landmarks of Antigua.

La Antigua is noted for its very elaborate religious celebrations during Lent (Cuaresma), leading up to Holy Week (Semana Santa) and Easter (Pascua). Each Sunday during Lent, one of the local parishes sponsors a Procession through the streets of Antigua. Elaborate and artistic carpets, predominantly made of dyed sawdust, flowers, pine needles, and even fruits and vegetables, adorn the processions' paths. [ citation needed ]

Due to its popularity among tourists and its very well-developed tourism infrastructure, Antigua Guatemala is often used as a central location from which to visit other tourist areas in Guatemala and Central America. Cruise ships that dock at Guatemalan ports offer trips to Antigua from both the Pacific and Atlantic. Antigua also holds a sizeable retirement community of expatriates from the US and Europe. [ citation needed ]


Historically, the area was considered to be one of the finest agriculturally in Guatemala. [26] Tourism is the main driver of the economy. Antigua is also a coffee-producing region of Anacafé.

Tourists visiting Antigua, 2005 Antigua, Guatemala.jpg
Tourists visiting Antigua, 2005

Language schools

Antigua is known as a destination for people who want to learn Spanish through immersion. There are many Spanish language schools in Antigua, and it is one of the most popular and best recognized centers for Spanish language study by students from Europe, Asia, and North America. Language institutes are one of the primary industries of Antigua, along with tourism.


Antigua GFC football club has played in the Guatemala top division for several years, but have been playing in the second division lately. Their home stadium is the Estadio Pensativo, which has a capacity of 9,000. They are nicknamed Los panzas verdes ("Green bellies") and have been successful nationally, having won the Guatemalan national league.


There are many restaurants in Antigua. Small eateries can be found at the Antigua marketplace next to the central bus stop, where you will find traditional Guatemalan dishes such as the traditional/Chapin breakfast, for example: refried beans, fried egg, fried plantain, and fresh cheese, served with handmade tortillas. Throughout Antigua you can find many cuisines from around the world: Mediterranean, Italian, Asian, American, and even British pies and French pastries!


Antigua is served by two main hospitals, Hospital Nacional Pedro de Bethancourt and a Guatemalan Institute of Social Security hospital. [36] Emergency medical services are provided by Bomberos Municipales (Guatemala) and Bomberos Voluntarios (Guatemala).


Arch connecting two parts of old Convent, Volcan de Agua in background Antigua2.JPG
Arch connecting two parts of old Convent, Volcán de Agua in background

Three large volcanoes dominate the horizon around Antigua. The most commanding, to the south of the city, is the Volcán de Agua or "Volcano of Water", some 3,766 metres (12,356 ft) high. When the Spanish arrived, the inhabitants of the area, Kakchikel Mayas, called it Hunapú (and they still do). However, it became known as Volcán de Agua after a lahar from the volcano buried the second site of the capital, which prompted the Spanish authorities to move the capital to present-day Antigua. The original site of the second capital is now the village San Miguel Escobar.

To the west of the city are a pair of peaks, Acatenango, which last erupted in 1972, some 3,976 metres (13,045 ft) high, and the Volcán de Fuego or "Volcano of Fire", some 3,763 metres (12,346 ft) high. "Fuego" is famous for being almost constantly active at a low level. Steam and gas issue from its top almost daily, while a larger eruption occurred in September 2012.


Antigua is a growing tourist destination in Guatemala as it is close to Guatemala City but is much calmer and safer, with more tourist oriented activities. It is possible to take buses from Antigua to many parts of Guatemala. Many travel agencies offer shuttles to the main tourist places: Monterrico beach, Atitlan Lake, Coban, Lanquín (Semuc Champey), or Tikal, though the transportation is more central in Guatemala City. Antigua is also known for its chocolate makers. [37]

Spanish Colony monuments

Antigua Guatemala location map.JPG
Red pog.svg
City Hall
Some of Antigua Guatemala colonial monuments

Before it was declared a National Monument by president Jorge Ubico on March 30, 1944, the city ruins were practically abandoned. The following galleries show images of the destruction of the structures due to earthquakes and abandonment. There were other churches, such as Nuestra Señora del Carmen and the Society of Jesus, that endured the 1773 earthquake relatively well, but they were abandoned and the earthquakes from 1917–18 and 1976 destroyed them. In the particular case of de San Francisco El Grande church, it was in good structural condition after the 1773 and 1917 earthquakes, and it was rebuilt in 1967 when the Franciscans returned to Guatemala. This eventually protected the structure from significant damage in the 1976 earthquake. Finally, La Merced church was practically new in 1773, and it has withstood time and earthquakes since; the church was not abandoned in 1776, but it was indeed abandoned in 1829 when the Mercedarians were expelled from Central America by general Francisco Morazán, along with the rest of regular clergy and the conservative party members and Aycinena family. [25]

NamePictureBrief description
Captain General Palace AntiguaSquareGovPalace79.jpg Residence of the Captain General of General Captaincy of Guatemala during the Spanish colony. After the Santa Marta earthquake in 1773 it was abandoned and used as a warehouse until it was rebuilt in 1936. In the 21st century the buildings include the offices of Guatemala Institute of Tourisms -INGUAT-, the city National Police headquarters and the Sacatepéquez Governor's office, among others. [38]
City Hall GT056-Antigua SchlKids.jpeg
Cathedral of Saint James
San José Parish
Guatemala 176.jpg The first building was begun in 1545 with rubble brought from the destroyed settlement in the valley of Almolonga. Its construction was hampered by frequent earthquakes. A second sanctuary would be inaugurated in 1680. Cathedral status was obtained in 1743. The first cathedral housed the remains of the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado who had been transferred there at the request of his daughter in 1568, but disappeared following one of the multiple earthquakes that damaged the city over the years.
Church and Convent of Capuchins Capuchinas.jpg Originally called "Convent and Church of Our Lady of the Pond of Zaragoza", was approved by Felipe V in 1725. Construction work began in 1731 and the building was consecrated in 1736. The daily routine of the professed was governed by strict regulatory rules including the strictest poverty, penance, and fasting; also the discalced nuns had to survive on handouts provided by the faithful. After the Santa Marta earthquake, although the convent was not completely affected, its assets were transferred to the new Guatemala de la Asunción by order of the Captain General.
La Recolección LaRecoleccion.Antigua.jpg In 1685 two "Recoleto" missionaries came to the city of Santiago de los Caballeros, and when some more monks of their order arrived in the following years, asked permission of the City Hall [Note 7] to build a monastery; but in 1695, the City Hall made it known that there was insufficient reason to justify the construction because there were already enough monasteries in the city. Following this refusal, the friars went to the Real Audiencia [Note 8] which authorized construction in 1700, by a royal decree. [39] Construction of the buildings began in 1701, and six years later the first stone of the church was placed. In 1708 the convent, library and infirmary were completed. The church was inaugurated on May 23, 1717. [39]
San Francisco Antigua Chiesa di San Francesco.jpg This was the first sanctuary built on Santiago de los Caballeros in the 16th century. Since its beginning, it has suffered seismic damage: in 1565 the first building was severely damaged and the tremors continued until 1773. After being abandoned for almost two hundred years, the church was rebuilt between 1961 and 1967 when the Franciscans recovered the property, and it has been open for Catholic worship since. The facade of the church is adorned with baroque columns and two bell towers. Adjacent to the church are the ruins of the old Franciscan convent. The temple has a special chapel that houses the remains of Saint Hermano Pedro de San José de Betancur, a missionary from the Canary Islands.
La Merced Church La merced antigua guatemala 2009d.JPG Architect Juan de Dios Estrada was in charge of its construction, which began in 1749. The temple was inaugurated in 1767 and is in ultra baroque Guatemalan style with two bell towers.
Church and School of the Society of Jesus Monument Antigua Guatemala.JPG Created by Royal Decree dated August 9, 1561, it was built with money donated in part by the chronicler Bernal Diaz del Castillo. Originally it consisted of three cloisters and a temple, and eventually hosted up to twelve Jesuits. It worked as "Colegio de San Lucas of the Society of Jesus" from 1608 until the order was expelled in 1767: "The school became famous and was unrivaled in terms of teaching of literature and grammar; it served the elite of Santiago de los Caballeros society, and among its students were chroniclers Francisco Antonio Fuentes y Guzmán and Francisco Vázquez, and priests Pedro Betancourt and Rafael Landívar." [11] The structure remained in relatively good condition after the 1773 earthquake, but it was eventually destroyed by the 1917–18 and 1976 earthquakes.
Santo Domingo Monastery GT056-Antigua Domingo5.jpeg Originally one of the most important and largest in the city, the Convent of Santo Domingo was destroyed in 1773 and abandoned by the transfer of the Dominicans to their site in Guatemala City . The ruins were sold to individuals and converted into the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo in 1989. In 2013 the 43rd General Assembly of the Organization of American States was held at their facilities.
Escuela de Cristo Church Escueladecristo01.jpg The temple was founded in the parish of the Holy Cross in 1664 and from 1689 it was known as the "Congregation of San Felipe de Neri". Due to the earthquakes in San Miguel in 1717 the building was damaged; the reconstruction was finalized in 1730 under the leadership of Mayor Architect Diego de Porres. In 1784, it was moved to "Our Lady of Remedies" parish, when the clergy of this church moved to Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción. The façade has an architectural renaissance style and is made of stone, like the church of the Capuchins, a characteristic that distinguishes them from the other temples in the city. In this church were originally the remains of Pedro de San José de Betancur.
Nuestra Señora del Carmen Church Iglesia del Carmen (3746568616).jpg Even though it survived the Santa Marta earthquakes, it was almost destroyed by the earthquakes of 1917-18 and 1976. However, its façade survived in very good condition, and has been admired ever since as an example of Guatemalan Baroque.
San Pedro Hospital Hermano Pedro's Hospital, Antigua Guatemala (October 2012).JPG The monks of San Juan de Dios congregation founded their first hospital and monastery in 1636 and were in charge of the hospitals in the Kingdom of Guatemala ever since. [40] San Pedro Hospital in particular was exclusively for ecclesiastical people. [13]
La Concepción convent AntiguaGuatemalaCuteChurch.jpg Renovated in the 21st century to show the cloister of the novices. It had been misidentified as the palace of Sister Juana de Maldonado, but recent research has shown that the cloister dates from the 18th century while the famous Guatemalan concepcionista nun lived in the 17th century. [14]
Chapel of the Holy Cross Antigua guatemala church ruins j.JPG

Holy Week

The most traditional processions are:

Holy week traditional processions in Antigua Guatemala
Fifth Sunday of LentJesús de la CaídaSan Bartolomé Becerra7:00 am – 10:00 pm
Friday of SorrowsViacrucis del Hermano Pedro (varones)San Francisco el Grande3:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Palm SundayPalm processionJocotenango Sacatepéquez6:30 am – 12:00 pm
Palm procession (live representation)La Merced, Santa Ana, Escuela de Cristo, San Felipe de Jesús8:00 am – 12:00 pm
Jesús Nazareno de la Reseña La Merced 11:00 am – 11:00 pm
Holy MondayJesús NazarenoSanta Inés del Monte PulcianoN/A
Holy TuesdayJesús Nazareno del SilencioEl Calvario4:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Holy WednesdayJesús Nazareno del MilagroSan Felipe de Jesús2:50 pm – 10:00 pm
Jesús NazarenoSan Mateo Milpas Altas4:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Holy ThursdayJesús Nazareno de la HumildadSan Cristóbal el Bajo11:00 am – 10:00 pm
Jesús Nazareno del Perdón San Francisco el Grande 1:00 pm 12:00 am
Good FridayJesús Nazareno de la Penitencia La Merced 4:00 am – 3:00 pm
Crucifixion Antigua Guatemala Cathedral, Escuela de Cristo12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Señor Sepultado and Virgen de Soledad Antigua Guatemala Cathedral 3:00 pm – 1:00 am
Señor SepultadoSan Felipe de Jesús3:00 pm – 1:00 am
Señor SepultadoEscuela de Cristo4:00 pm – 1:00 am

In films

The New Adventures of Tarzan (1935)

In 1935, the film The New Adventures of Tarzan , was filmed on location in Guatemala, taking advantage of the help from the United Fruit Company and president Jorge Ubico. The places where the filming was made were:

The Border: 1982

The initial earthquake sequences from the Jack Nicholson's film The Border were filmed in Antigua Guatemala, specifically in La Recoleccion Architectural Complex. [42]


Antigua Guatemala has a subtropical highland climate (Köppen: Cwb).

Climate data for Antigua Guatemala
Average high °C (°F)22.5
Daily mean °C (°F)16.6
Average low °C (°F)10.8
Average precipitation mm (inches)1
Source: [43]
Instituto Nacional de Sismología, Vulcanología, Meteorología e Hidrología de Guatemala [44]

Geographic location

Antigua Guatemala is surrounded by municipalities of Sacatepéquez:

See also

Notes and references

  1. This square was also called "Plaza Mayor", "Plaza Real" and "Plaza de Armas".
  2. Previously the audience was in the city of "Gracias a Dios" in Honduras, but there it lacked the appropriate conditions for its activities.
  3. The Audiencia was called "of the Confines" because it was within the confines of New Spain and Perú.
  4. Parts of this construction are still preserved and may be the only ruins dating from the 16th century in the city of Antigua Guatemala.
  5. The chocolate was the drink of choice in Guatemala during the colonial era. It was considered a liquid food.
  6. During the Spanish colony, "General Study" was another name for the universities.
  7. i.e., Local authorities chosen among the criollo people.
  8. Royal emissaries from the Spanish Crown.

Related Research Articles

Volcán de Agua mountain

Volcán de Agua is a stratovolcano located in the departments of Sacatepéquez and Escuintla in Guatemala. At 3,760 m (12,340 ft), Agua Volcano towers more than 3,500 m (11,500 ft) above the Pacific coastal plain to the south and 2,000 m (6,600 ft) above the Guatemalan Highlands to the north. It dominates the local landscape except when hidden by cloud cover. The volcano is within 5 to 10 km of the city of Antigua Guatemala and several other large towns situated on its northern apron. These towns have a combined population of nearly 100,000. It is within about 20 km of Escuintla to the south. Coffee is grown on the volcano's lower slopes.

Volcán de Fuego mountain in Guatemala

Volcán de Fuego or Chi Q'aq' is an active stratovolcano in Guatemala, on the borders of Chimaltenango, Escuintla and Sacatepéquez departments. It sits about 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) west of Antigua, one of Guatemala's most famous cities and a tourist destination. It has erupted frequently since the Spanish conquest, most recently in June and November 2018.

Chiantla Municipality in Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Chiantla is a municipality in the Guatemalan department of Huehuetenango. It is situated at 2,000m above sea level. It covers a terrain of 536km2. The annual festival is on January 28.

San Martín Jilotepeque Municipality and town in Chimaltenango, Guatemala

San Martín Jilotepeque is a municipality in the Chimaltenango department of Guatemala. It was the site of a bus accident in 2013.

Captaincy General of Guatemala Spanish 1609-1821 possession in Central America; administrative division of the Spanish Empire, under the viceroyalty of New Spain

The Captaincy General of Guatemala, also known as the Kingdom of Guatemala, was an administrative division of the Spanish Empire, under the viceroyalty of New Spain in Central America, including the present-day nations of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and the Mexican state of Chiapas. The governor-captain general was also president of the Royal Audiencia of Guatemala, the superior court.

Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala university

The Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala is the biggest and oldest university of Guatemala; it is also the fourth founded in the Americas. Established in the Kingdom of Guatemala during the Spanish colony, it was the only university in Guatemala until 1954.

Monasterio de Santo Domingo, Antigua Guatemala church building in Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala

Santo Domingo Church and Monastery is a ruined monastery in Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala. Its history can be traced back to 1538 when the Dominicans arrived in Guatemala. It had two towers with ten bells and the monastery was filled with treasures. The monastery was destroyed in the 1773 Santa Marta earthquake. Today, part of the ruins have been transformed into a hotel, the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo.

Iglesia de San Francisco, Antigua Guatemala church building in Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala

San Francisco el Grande is a church in Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala and one of the most frequented sanctuaries by the local population because of the shrine of Peter of Saint Joseph Betancur.

Antigua Guatemala Cathedral

Antigua Guatemala Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church in Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala. The original church was built around 1541, but suffered several earthquakes throughout its history, and the first church building was demolished in 1669. The cathedral was rebuilt and consecrated in 1680. By 1743 the cathedral was one of the largest in Central America. However, the devastating 1773 Guatemala earthquake seriously damaged much of the building, though the two towers at the front remained largely intact. These have undergone restoration work, and the cathedral has been partly rebuilt

Iglesia de La Merced, Antigua Guatemala church in Antigua Guatemala

La Merced Church is a baroque church in Antigua Guatemala.

Iglesia y Convento de las Capuchinas, Antigua Guatemala

The Iglesia y Convento de las Capuchinas is a notable convent and church in Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala. It is one of the finest examples of an 18th-century convent in Guatemala. It was consecrated in 1736 but like the rest of the city suffered damage during the 1751 and 1773 earthquakes respectively, and was abandoned by order of the Captain General at the time.

Cathedral of Guatemala City

The Holy Church Cathedral Metropolitan Basilica of Santiago de Guatemala also Metropolitan Cathedral, officially Catedral Primada Metropolitana de Santiago, is the main church of Guatemala City and of the Archdiocese of Guatemala. It is located at the Parque Central in the center of the city. Its massive structure incorporates baroque and classical elements and has withstood numerous earthquakes. Damage by the devastating earthquakes of 1917 and 1976 has been repaired. The inside of the cathedral is relatively sparsely decorated but impresses by its size and its structural strength. The altars are ornate and decorative. In front of the cathedral stand a series of 12 pillars, solemnly remembering the names of thousands of people forcibly disappeared or murdered during the counterinsurgency violence of Guatemala's internal armed conflict, which began in 1960 and lasted until the final peace accord was signed in 1996.

Holy Week processions in Guatemala

Holy Week in Guatemala is celebrated with street expressions of faith, called processions, usually organized by a "hermandad". Each procession of Holy Week has processional floats and steps, which are often religious images of the Passion of Christ, or Marian images, although there are exceptions, like the allegorical steps of saints.

The Real Audiencia of Santiago de Guatemala, simply known as the Audiencia of Guatemala or the Audiencia of Los Confines, was a superior court in area of the New World empire of Spain, known as the Kingdom of Guatemala. This area included the current territories of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Mexican state of Chiapas. The Audiencia's presiding officer, the president, was the head of the government of the area. The Audiencia was initially created by decrees of November 20, 1542 and September 13, 1543, and had its seat in Antigua Guatemala.

La Recolección Architectural Complex

La Recolección Architectural Complex is a former church and monastery of the Order of the Recollects and its adjacent park in Antigua, Guatemala. It is located in the western part of the old city.

Iglesia y Convento de la Compañía de Jesús, Antigua Guatemala

The Church and convent of the Society of Jesus in Antigua Guatemala is a religious complex that was built between 1690 and 1698. It was built on a block that is only 325 yards away from the Cathedral of Saint James on a lot that once belonged to the family of famous chronicler Bernal Díaz del Castillo and had three monastery wings and a church. There were only a maximum of 13 Jesuit priest at any given time in the building, but they also hosted Jesuit brothers and secular students. In the building was the San Lucas School of the Society of Jesus, until the Jesuits were expelled from the Spanish colonies in 1767.

Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, Antigua Guatemala

The Captain General Palace, or Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, is a large building localed in the Central Square of Antigua Guatemala. It serves as the headquarters of the Guatemala Institute of Tourism, the Antigua Tourism Association, National Police and the Sacatepquez Department government.

Pedro Cortés y Larraz Spanish Catholic priest; Archbishop of Guatemala

Pedro Cortés y Larraz was Archbishop of Guatemala between 1767 and 1779 and bishop of Tortosa between 1780 and 1786.


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Coordinates: 14°34′N90°44′W / 14.567°N 90.733°W / 14.567; -90.733