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Antigua Guatemala
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-06-03 18:38:05 | Antigua Guatemala, Sacatepequez, Guatemala
Keywords: UNESCO
If the mythological Phoenix that was born again from the ashes of its predecessor was a city, it would be Antigua. That city was wiped out on many occasions by earthquakes of magnitudes estimated around 7.4 and 7.5 on current Richter scale. The first time was in 1717 which wiped out most of the city and killed hundreds of people. In 1773, another long series of earthquakes again destroyed almost all the city and at least 600 died right during the first quakes, with at least the same number in the following months due to starvation. After the 1773 quakes, Antigua lost its title of capital which was moved to current Guatemala City. Yet, despite those two horrible disasters, Antigua rose again to become a jewel of Central America.

After the 1717 quakes, the city was rebuilt using the Italian Renaissance grid system and the architecture was a mix of that Italian style with the Spanish colonial style, yielding a very rich and unique blend of influences. Most of those wonders were totally destroyed by the 1773 quakes. It then took a while however for the city to recover, mostly because by 1776 most of the city was abandoned and left to be forgotten for nearly a century before the real recovery began to reproduce what was destroyed.

Very few of the pre-1773 structures are still standing, only a handful are still used after very extensive renovations, one of the largest and most impressive is the convent of the Capucinas (1736), pictured on top. There's also the Pared church with its extraordinary painted ornaments on the front.

An icon of Antigua

It stands proud today

Just walking in the streets is a real pleasure because it is full of colours, on the buildings and with the handcrafts, the streets are wide (thanks to Italian design as opposed to Spanish one) and the cobblestones do add a very special charm to the place. Although yellow dominates the city's palette, it's not the only colour you'll see. It's the rainy season here now, so it rains every day... not good for pictures normally, but I was able to get a few good ones like the one above of the arch seeing a volcano through the opening... and in the water puddle on the ground.

It was added to the World Heritage List in 1979, same year as Tikal. Much like Morelia in Mexico's Michoacan state, Antigua faces challenges in terms of authenticity and preservation. Many new buildings are built to look like old colonial ones... impacting the original look. Some were also built within the standing walls of ruins... again impacting greatly the preservation. Antigua doesn't protect well the remnants of the pre-quakes architecture, only a few structures can be visited without much information. The city concentrates on the replication of the colonial style that has made its signature and is attracting tourists from around the world. Antigua is a very very very touristic city, it's stunning to see how many gringos are in the streets. You can also see it indirectly by the number of street vendors and the HUGE handcraft market which has to be the largest souvenir shop in the country.

One of the few spots with handcrafts sellers.

Antigua is also famous today for its Spanish schools for foreigners, but much like San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, there are so many gringos here and the shopkeepers are so enclined to speak English with you that it's hard to actually practice Spanish here. A rich and wonderful city to visit... but the enjoyment brought by the rich architecture is dimmed by overwhelming presence of tourists.

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