A must see Guatemalan historical site is Antigua, Guatemala. It's one the oldest and shining examples of early Spanish colonial city planning in Latin America. A basic grid plan that dates back to 1543! Its religious, private and government buildings are some of the best preserved Spanish colonial architecture in Guatemala. Walking on its cobblestone streets brings you back to a time in history that few places have. Antigua isn’t short of wonderful architecture, stunning hikes, Spanish schools and good eats either. To truly get a feel for this city, one needs to take time to stroll the streets and admire the architecture. We did just that and drove up to the Cerro De La Cruz (Hill of the cross) to take in the amazing views of the city below set below the two volcanoes of Antigua—Fuego and Agua. (Fire and Water)
Cerro De La Cruz
A Guatemalan Historical Site You Shouldn't Miss -Cerro De La Cruz
The Cerro de la Cruz is not the oldest place in the city. Built in 1930 first of wood then reconstructed of concrete, the cross is nothing special. The view of the city below however is spectacular! You can see it all! Volcano Agua is framed perfectly in distance and you can see all the churches, central square, streets and alleyways. It's really spectacular. 330 stairs take you up to the lookout, or you can opt to drive to the top and walk down to the view. Either way, it's bound to be a place you want to sit and admire the city below. We sat up here for sometime, sipping our coffee drinks and taking in the view on a perfectly sunny day. We loved it!
The Architecture of Churches In Antigua
On of our loves is architecture. Antigua has a lot of it! The 1500-1700s were the heyday of church building in Antigua, Guatemala. On July 29, 1773, there was a huge earthquake in the area that decimated many of them leaving them in ruins. At that time Antigua was the colonial capital of Central America and many of the original buildings were lost. Those built afterwards are still incredible in their own right. We rode around town snapping picture of some of the most prolific and even stopped at the Cathedral of San Francisco, where there was a local flea market of people selling their wares. It was a great day of taking in some of the architecture old and ancient.
Iglesia San Francisco
Parts of the Iglesia San Francisco El Grande, might be the only remaining church that dates back to the 16th century. This church was built in the early 1500s and destroyed by many earthquakes from the 1500s through the 1700s. The courtyard was great and there was a nice flea market going on with locals selling every type of trinket, food and other things. You entered the courtyard/ parking lot through a large arch and when you pull in you really see the gandure of it and can only imagine the importance of this church in the days of old. What's left is basically the facade which has twisted solomonic columns, typical of the Spanish-American baroque architecture of the time. There was reconstruction of other buildings around it in the 1700s and although newer, still quite old.
Iglesia San Agustín
Iglesia San Agustín, was dedicated to St. Augustine in the year 1657. Numerous earthquakes in the early 1700s pretty much destroyed the church itself and the final nail in its coffin was delivered during the 1773 quake. Since then, it hasn't been used for much more than a storage locker and is now closed to the public because it's not structurally sound. Built in the Renaissance style, you can still see the statues of saints including: St. Agustín on the uppermost part of the chapel, below are Santa Mónica, Santa Teresa , San Felipe Neri and San Ambrosio.
Iglesia De La Merced
The Iglesia De La Merced was opened in 1767 and done so in a low construction due to all the earthquakes in the early 1700s. Good thing they did, because the big one hit in 1773 and it withstood the shake. The church took nearly 20 years to build and the cross of stone in the atrium is one of it's oldest structures. The style is Baroque which is all about showing off. The gilding on the outside, gigantism of proportions, a large open central space, clusters of sculpted angels and other figures, and other features that are for dramatic effect.
La Ermita de la Santa Cruz
La Ermita de la Santa Cruz is an old convent ruin that is recently used for concerts and festivals, is on the outskirts of Antigua, on the east side of town, against a densely forested mountain. In 1973 the city decided to use the ruin to build an permanent outdoor amphitheater in front of it. A nice place to see a concert. We didn't get to see one and it was closed so we couldn't go in, however this convent was destroyed in 1717.... you guessed it, an earthquake. Its origins date back to 1664, when permission was given to build a new convent.
Cathedral de San Jose
The Catedral de San José was built in 1541 and was the largest in Central America at one point. It's the main church on the central plaza in town. It got beat down by several earthquakes throughout its history and completely demolished in 1669. The cathedral was rebuilt and consecrated in 1680. However, the infamous 1773 Guatemala earthquake seriously damaged it. The two towers on the facade remained intact however. So it begs the question? Why did they make this town the main center for catholicism in Central America? Well from the early 1500s until the "big one" the city was called, Santiago De Los Caballeros. (St. James of the Gentlemen)
Santiago de los Caballeros was the third capital in what was called the Spanish "Kingdom of Guatemala". The countries of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and the state of Chiapas in Mexico (basically all of Central America). The city was established in 1543 in the Valley of Panchoy, and it was established as head of the Real Audiencia (The Court of Spain where anything legal was brought in front of this court) of Central America in 1549. This city was known far and wide as one of the three most beautiful cities of the Spanish Indies in it's time. After the 1773 quake the Spanish had enough and moved the capital to the Ermita Valley, modern day Guatemala City. Don't you just love history!?!?!?
Iglesia La Candelaria
The Church of Candelaria was erected in 1548 by Bishop Francisco Marroquín. The swirling columns and Baroque architecture reveal a church that even now seems spectacular and picturesque. All the quakes from 1717 on, pretty much turned this church to one of the most rubbled ruins we saw. Rebuilding occurred at least twice in its history and we hear they are trying to revive the structure for tourism now.
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen
The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen (simply called Iglesia Carmen) has its origins dating to 1638. A mere 13 years later a huge earthquake damaged it extensively. In 1686, a new structure was built, which was then largely damaged by the San Miguel earthquake, which occurred in 1717 along with another 3,000 buildings. On the 4 of February, 1976 another earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale brought down the domes that were still standing and image of the Virgin was on the facade. What stands today is not open to the public but has vendors selling their stuff out front and is still a great Baroque example of architecture with its large columns and ornate stonework.
Arco de Santa Catalina
Last but not least, the Arco de Santa Catalina built in the early 1700s. This iconic structure in downtown Antigua, Guatemala is photographed by just about everyone. At the time of building the arch, because of vow of seclusion, nuns were forbidden to interact with the public and original convent grew so fast that they over-stretched their walls. This created a precarious problem for the nuns who wanted to use the building across the street as another convent. The arch was eventually built to connect the Santa Catalina Virgen y Martir Convents making it possible to go from convent to convent without interacting with the public. The clock tower was added in 1830 after....... yep the 1773 earthquake damaged the archway which deteriorated it to the point of having to rebuild it....so why not put a clock on it too?
Change In Perspective
We had been to Antigua one other time before and loved the town! We hiked a volcano and spent a lot of time in the central plaza people watching. This time was different. We explored more and took in the architecture of the catholic churches and walked the cobblestone streets. We enjoyed it even more. We couldn't see all the churches and didn't even have time to see the majority of the most prolific churches, however we saw quite a bit and will always remember our time in Antigua, Guatemala.
Antigua for us is a place of immense historical value for not only Central America, but all the Americas. It was the hub of Spanish influence at one time. The importance of Antigua can't be denied and the city just has a uniquely special feel of antiquity that you don't find many places. We will be back someday and do some of the other million things there is to do in Antigua. The food options are one of them. We ended our trip hanging out with an old friend who lives there we met in Roatan. We ate a wonderful Indian food meal at Pushkar Indian Cuisine, and before heading out of town sat down and chit chatted at a cafe. Antigua has it all, great coffee, food, architecture, volcanoes, and views. Until next time Antigua.