Antigua Guatemala – A City of Churches

Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala.

No, that name isn’t a double typo. The city is formally known as Antigua Guatemala, was once the capital city of the region. It’s about 50 miles, (84.4 km to be exact), from the Port of San Jose, Guatemala, where you will find the city of Antigua, (ok, so like most people, I dropped the redundancy.) This beautiful city was founded in the 1500s, and lies in an earthquake zone. Destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1527, then buried in an earthquake stirred avalanche, it was rebuilt in a new location in 1543. Then in 1773, the capital city was again destroyed by an earthquake. The decision was made to move the capital city to a less earthquake prone region. The new capital was called Guatemala City but those who chose to remain in the original location adopted the name, “La Antigua Guatemala”, Antigua was reborn as a much smaller town. As of 2013, the city is now some 45,000 population.

Laid out on a grid since the original design in 1543, the city has retained that square pattern popularized by the Italian Renaissance. The narrow streets preserved since their construction is best at accommodating small vehicles and motorcycles. Our excursion tour bus was a smaller version of the usually large coach provided by NCL’s excursion vendors. Even it was larger than the van you may note in the image above.

There were many smaller buses, holding about 15 guests or so, that headed toward the city on what was billed as a “hop on, hop off” tour. Guests could get off on a stop, wander around and pick up a different bus and go to the next stop, or walk to the next stop and get on another bus. Our guide offered to stay with our group if we all decided to return to the same bus before going to the next stop. As a group, we decided that is how we would spend the day. When we got to the city square, we could see how many tourists chose to spend their time in this beautiful old city.

Like most Central American countries, Guatemala has a high percentage of Catholics. We visited three churches on our tour and drove by the ruins of others destroyed by the great earthquake in the 18th century. The gallery of images features a few interior shots of those churches where we were allowed to photograph the interiors.

For those who might miss their diet of American fast food, there were plenty of famous name fast food franchises located in the old buildings around the city square. Don’t like Latin American cuisine? Don’t fret. You’ll have plenty of options to choose from.

The streets are as wide as they can be without encroaching on the buildings and narrow sidewalks. Rather than take up limited space with extra signposts, street and road signs are tacked onto the sides of the intersection’s buildings. The small black sign on the building on the left indicates the street name.

Ringing the center square, large buildings with many offices were reserved for government service departments. Other buildings contained store fronts and restaurant units. The building above was mostly government offices.

Toward the end of our visit to the city center, we noticed a large number of students getting out of school. I noted that the Smart Phone revolution hasn’t skipped this ancient city’s younger generations. I guess the young lady on the right hasn’t been warned of the dangers of walking and texting.

Not far from the city, in the afternoon haze and shrouded in cloud, one of the country’s active volcanoes is easily visible. Only about 11 miles (18 km) from Antigua, the volcano, Fuego (Fire), last erupted in 2018. Though it didn’t affect the city, nearly 500 residents of nearby towns and rural areas were killed or missing in that most recent eruption.

One of our stops included a visit to a Jade Museum and factory. Here two workers shape and polish jewelry that you can purchase in the nearby store. Go figure (OK, I’m being facetious here.) Kidding aside, the grounds of the facility are featured in the gallery of images and the jewelry was quite popular with some of our cruise guests. As I conclude this, our first, visit to Guatemala, I present for your review, a gallery of images featuring the city of Antigua. As usual, most browsers support clicking on an image to enlarge it and scroll through the gallery.

John Steiner

 

 

 

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