First founded in 1543, at 1,500m above sea level, Antigua Guatemala was once one of the most important Spanish colonies in the Americas. Antigua was the capital of the Captaincy-General, the seat of the Spanish colonial government in what was also known as the Kingdom of Guatemala. The Kingdom included Chiapas (southern Mexico), Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Built in an earthquake-prone region, throughout history Antigua has been repeatedly damaged by tremors, floods and volcanic eruptions but rebuilt, greater and stronger. Over three centuries, and due to regulations prohibiting repair and construction, the city has acquired a number of outstanding Baroque-style principal monuments, buildings and ruins. Many of these have withstood the tests of time along with the city’s famous cobble streets, plazas and domestic architecture.
Colonial architecture and modern construction in this style remain the prominent identity of Antigua and in 1979 UNESCO recognized Antigua Guatemala as a Cultural Heritage of Mankind site.
For tourists, walking tours of Antigua take place daily and are the perfect way to see the many historical buildings and ruin sites. Some of the most famous to visit include:
The Casa de la Moneda
The Casa de la Moneda was founded in 1773 and was an institution in charge of manufacturing, melting and minting of coin currency.
The Antigua Guatemala Cathedral
The Roman Catholic Church, Antigua Guatemala Cathedral, was originally built circa 1541, however suffered severe damage from several earthquakes throughout its history. The original church was demolished in1669 and rebuilt in 1680. For a small fee visitors can take a tour of the ruins.
The Las Capuchinas church and convent was constructed in the18th-century. It was consecrated in 1736 but as with the rest of Antigua endured damage during earthquakes in 1751 and 1773 and was eventually abandoned by the Captain General at the time.
The Palace of the Captains General
The first incarnation of the Palace of the Captains General was constructed in 1558. The General Captaincy of the Kingdom of Guatemala was governed from this building and all of the government, administrative and military offices were operated from here. The Palace has been restored over the years and is now Antigua’s Culture Centre.
The Universidad de San Carlos
The Universidad de San Carlos is the oldest university in Guatemala. Built during the Spanish colony, it was the only university in Guatemala up to 1954. Although the University has been restored some of the original features remain intact.
Iglesia La Merced
The Iglesia La Merced was originally opened in 1767 but was later abandoned in 1829. It remained abandoned until the mid 19th century but is now the church of the San Sebastián parish. From the church two famous processions depart through the streets during Holy Week.
Convent Santa Clara
The ruins of the Convent Santa Clara date back to 1700. The building was badly damaged in the earthquake of 1717 and the large religious complex had to be abandoned.
San Jose el Viejo
San José el Viejo dates back to February 1762. As with other ruin sites, earthquake damage forced abandonment yet these days the remaining structure and old facades are a highly prized venue for events such as weddings.
Convento la Recoleccion
The Convent la Recoleccion was opened in 1717 and is located in the western part of Antigua.
Casa Santa Domingo
Casa Santo Domingo was once one of the most important convents in the Americas. Nowadays parts of the ruins have been turned into Antigua’s only five-star hotel with large gardens and a museum.
The Church of El Carmen Antigua was destroyed in 1774. The ruins that remain are situated in central Antigua and are usually the first seen by tourists as many shuttle buses stop here.
The Church of La Candeleria was first severely damaged by tremors in 1717. The temple was rebuilt then struck with the earthquake again in 1751. After restoration it was elevated to a parish in 1754 but finally collapsed in the 1773 earthquake. A testimony to its construction, some of the church still remains and is currently under restoration.