WHDIGH Series: “I Did Not Know That” — History Of La Antigua Guatemala

Once again I reveal to you how much I didn’t know before I traveled and hopefully how much I’ve learned in the process of traveling, usually without really even trying. That’s right, it’s time for some learnin’. Once again, WHDIGH.COM shouts out…
“I DID NOT KNOW THAT”

Last time I DID NOT KNOW THAT Mexico City was built on top of a giant lake and because of that fact the giant metropolis is now sinking! This installment of the Well, How Did I Get Here? Series : I Did Not Know That features a summarized history of Antigua, or La Antigua Guatemala. At one time Antigua, Guatemala was the capital of almost all of Central America and also of the Chiapas region of southern Mexico. The history of Antigua has been dramatically influenced by the history of other cities within Guatemala. Due to changing circumstances the capital of the Spanish colony of Guatemala has changed several times. The final relocation of the capital is a fundamental reason why Antigua is the way it is today.

In 1524 the Spanish conquistadors established the first capital of the Spanish colony in Iximche. In November of 1527 the capital was moved to the Valley of Almolonga after several uprisings by the Cakchiquel Mayans. Today this is the location of the city named Ciudad Vieja. This capital city was destroyed by a devastating mud flow from Volcan de Agua on September 11, 1541. After the destruction the capital was moved once again, this time five miles away to the Valley of Panchoy where modern-day Antigua sits.

Volcan de Agua looming behind a street in Antigua, it was a mudslide from this volcano that destroyed the 2nd capital of Guatemala and prompted the relocation of the capital to Antigua



In March of 1543 the Spanish conquistadors founded Antigua and it served as the capital of almost all of Central America and the Chiapas region of southern Mexico for more than 200 years. It took quite a while but Antigua grew into the most important city in all of Central America. During these 200 years many monumental buildings of Spanish colonial architecture were constructed. In this part of the world Antigua was only surpassed by Lima and Mexico City during its peak.

Captain-Generals’ Palace. The center of the government from southern Mexico to Costa Rica, basically all of Central America, for over 200 years.

Catedral de Santiago. Founded in 1558, and damaged by earthquakes many times, it stands on the east side of the central plaza and park in Antigua.

The Fountain Of The Sirens. One of the many fountains built within Antigua. In the past these fountains were an important water supply for many humble dwellings.

Arco de Santa Catalina. It was built in 1693 and once belonged to the Santa Catalina Convent. The convent was destroyed by earthquakes and was never rebuilt. The arch served as a passageway to keep the nuns out of view while walking between the cloister and the school, which were built on opposite sides of the street.

Our Lady Of Mercy’s Church and Monastery. Construction began in 1548. Reconstructed after earthquakes, the baroque facade dates from the 1850s.

The city was damaged several times throughout its history by earthquakes. Each time the Antiguenos would rebuild the city bigger and better. On September 29, 1717, an estimated 7.4 magnitude earthquake ravaged the city and over 3,000 buildings were ruined. Much of the city’s architecture was destroyed. This devastating earthquake made many consider moving the capital to another city, but it remained.

The capital would only remain until 1773 when another catastrophic earthquake struck the city. The earthquake brought so much destruction that this time the capital was moved to the Valley of The Shrine where modern-day Guatemala City remains today. After the earthquake the city of Antigua was ordered abandoned and it was actually illegal to live there, but not everyone left.

People walking by the facade of the Santa Clara ruins

What once was the ceiling of the temple at the Santa Clara ruins

Iglesia La Senora de Remedio

As all of the wealth and most of the people left Antigua for the new capital in “the new Guatemala” or Guatemala City, the “Old Guatemala” or La Antigua Guatemala, was left in ruins. The city grew very slowly after the capital moved and that is a primary reason the city contains so many ruins and it’s charming colonial architecture today.

These colonial ruins and buildings that remain give Antigua so much charm and romance that in 1979 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) named it a World Heritage Site. It is unlike any other city in the Americas and is a treasure for humanity largely created by a natural tragedy.

The wall of an abandoned building around the corner from my Spanish school

San Jose El Viejo

Iglesia De La Escuela De Cristo

Join us again next time when I continue to display what an ignoramus I am.

When I again proclaim that hey, I DID NOT KNOW THAT

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