Antigua Guatemala was founded in 1543 and quickly became an important Spanish colonial hub. However, the city was repeatedly devastated by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The ruins left behind and its remarkable resilience contributes to the city's unique charm and historical character.
Antigua Guatemala, commonly referred to simply as "Antigua" or "La Antigua," is a city in the southern part of the Central Highlands region of Guatemala.
Built at approximately 1,530 m (5,000 ft) in an earthquake-prone region, the city was founded in 1524 by the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado as Santiago de los Caballeros, the capital of the Captaincy-General of Guatemala.
It was subsequently destroyed by fire caused by an uprising of the indigenous population, re-established in 1527 and entirely buried due to earthquakes and an avalanche in 1541.
The third location was inaugurated in the Valley of Panchoy or Pacán in March 1543. The city quickly became an important Spanish colonial hub. It was a center for exporting religious images and statues to the rest of the American continent and Spain during the 17th and 18th centuries.
It survived natural disasters of floods, volcanic eruptions and other severe tremors until 1773 when the Santa Marta earthquake destroyed much of the town. A series of earthquakes led to the abandonment of the city as the capital.
At this point, authorities ordered the relocation of the capital to a safer location region, which became Guatemala City, the county's modern capital. However, some residents stayed behind in the original town, which was referred to as "La Antigua Guatemala." The ruins left behind, and its remarkable resilience contribute to the city's unique charm and historical character.
Antigua Guatemala was the entire region's cultural, economic, religious, political and educational center until the capital was moved. The city mainly lay abandoned for almost a century until the mid-1800s, when increased agricultural production, particularly coffee and grain, brought new investment to the region.
Antigua Guatemala exhibits one the earliest and outstanding examples of city planning in Latin America in which the basic grid plan, dating from 1543, has been maintained. The pattern of straight lines established by the grid of north-south and east-west streets and inspired by the Italian Renaissance is one of the best examples in Latin American town planning, and all that remains of the 16th-century city.
Most surviving civil, religious, and civic buildings date from the 17th and 18th centuries and constitute magnificent examples of colonial architecture in the Americas. Its religious, private and government buildings are outstanding evidence of Spanish colonial architecture in Antigua.
Among the many significant historical buildings are the Palace of the Captains General, the Casa de la Moneda, the Cathedral, the Universidad de San Carlos, Las Capuchinas, La Merced, and Santa Clara.
These buildings reflect a regional stylistic variation known as Barroco antigueño. Distinctive characteristics of this architectural style include decorative stucco for interior and exterior ornamentation, main facades with a central window niche and often a deeply-carved tympanum, massive buildings and low bell towers designed to withstand the region's frequent earthquakes.
The influence of the Christian church on every aspect of daily life in Antigua Guatemala, during the colonial period is evidenced by the many churches and monasteries in the city.