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Visit Antigua

History and Culture Antigua

Antigua is a charming, colonial city tucked in between the volcanoes of central Guatemala. For many years it was the political, economical and religious nerve centre of Central America, until it was more or less abandoned following a series of earthquakes in the year 1773.

Trial and Error


Originally, the city was founded in July 1523 by Pedro de Alvarado, a Spanish conquistador from Badajoz, in the now ruined city of Iximch in Northern Guatemala, after he defeated the K'iche people, descendants of the Mayas. He then settled in the city of his allies, the Kaqchikel people, the same people whom he eventually betrayed and who turned against him causing him to have to move the location of the city to the Almolongo Valley. The city retained its name of "Ciudad de los Caballeros de Santiago de Guatemala" or "City of the Knights of St. James of Guatemala." and a new mini kingdom of sorts was set up. In the year 1541 however, Alvarado died in battle in Mexico. His wife took over as Governor but the whole city was destroyed later that year by a mudslide.

Third time lucky. The city was then moved to a new location and this time it began to prosper. A lot of monumental colonial buildings were constructed and Santiago, as it was then known, became a key colonial administration centre. It was mainly due to the ideal location of the city, in between New Spain and Peru, that it prospered so much and so quickly. Local aristocracy, who descended from the original Spanish conquistadors, added to their wealth as the city grew and became an important commercial focal point.

Earthquake Devastation

All of this good fortune was, however, not to last for long. In 1773, the city was completely devastated by a series of large earthquakes which killed thousands of people and brought many buildings to the ground. You can still see the rubbles of some of the buildings of the time in Antigua today. The capital city was transferred to the city of Guatemala, but some residents stayed behind, unable to tear themselves away from the ruins of their once glorious city.


The process of re-building the city was a slow one and all the while the new capital, Guatemala City, continued to grow and prosper. The city now became known as "Antigua Guatemala" or "Old Guatemala City" which was gradually shortened to "Antigua", The city was still big enough to be named the capital of the Sacatepquez province following Guatemalan independence from Spain. Ironically enough, in 1917 a huge earthquake hit the city of Guatemala, with Antigua escaping more or less undamaged.

Antigua Today

Today Antigua has retained its colonial charm and ambience and is a top tourist destination attracting many people each year who want to experience life in the city, visit the ruins, use it as a base to visit the rest of Guatemala or even spend some time learning Spanish. It is a city filled with markets, historic landmarks, artesenal goods to buy and colonial ruins that bring the visitor a pleasant sense of stepping back in time to the glory days of the city. Antigua is also ideally located in amongst volcanoes and in the middle of a coffee producing region, making it an ideal destination for climbers and coffee lovers alike.