Antigua Guatemala, founded in 1543, was the seat of Spanish colonial government for the Kingdom of Guatemala, which included Chiapas (southern Mexico), Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The city grew into the most important city in Central America, filled with monumental buildings of ornate Spanish colonial architecture. By 1773, in addition to the cathedral and government palace the city could boast of over 30 churches, 18 convents and monasteries, 15 hermitages, 10 chapels, the University of San Carlos, five hospitals, an orphanage, fountains and parks, and municipal water and sewer systems. It was the the most noble and loyal city of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, as it was titled by royal decree. Antigua Guatemala sits 1530 meters above sea level and was third (after Mexico City and Lima, Peru) in importance and splendor in the Americas, until it was destroyed by the earthquake of 1773.
Holy Week is the most spectacular time in La Antigua, with colorful processions winding their way through the streets of the city. Of particular beauty are the sawdust carpets made on the streets for the processions to step on.
The sawdust is dyed different colors. Then, beautiful designs are cut out of cardboard, and the sawdust is sieved through these cuttings. The result of this painstaking work is truly striking. Visitors who wish to visit La Antigua during Easter week should make hotel reservations far in advance, as many people come to Antigua to enjoy these beautiful traditions.
La Antigua Guatemala is famous for its jade factories, where beautiful pieces can be found. It is also known for its ceramics: the beautiful hand-painted birds and butterflies come from La Antigua. The woodwork from La Antigua is well known, as is its typical candy. There are several schools for intensive Spanish study, with a choice of study plans that range from one week of 4 hours per day to four weeks of 7 hours of intensive daily classes. Some of these plans include lodging for the student with a Guatemalan family.
Only 4 miles from La Antigua, you will find Ciudad Vieja. Ciudad Vieja is the site where the second capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala was founded (see chapter on History). In 1541, it was destroyed by volcanic eruptions that engulfed the town. The original church was excavated intact. The remains of the Governor's Palace (1527) are behind the school. The third story is exposed, but the first two floors are still buried.