Antigua Guatemala is located in the Panchoy Valley, 1530 meters above sea level. According to some historians, the word “panchoy” comes from Kaqchikel and means “dry lagoon”. It is said the valley was once a lake.
The city is surrounded to the North by the Manchén hills and Candelaria where one can enjoy the wonderful landscape. The Agua volcano rises 3,750 meters above sea level to the South. The Manzanillo and La Cruz hills rise to the East and the Acatenango volcano, reaching 3,960 meters above sea level, and Fuego volcano, which is 3,800 meters high, tower over Antigua to the West.
Tourism is the main source of income for Antigua, followed by coffee, which is a favorite of international markets. The large amount of high quality traditional handcrafts manufactured here are also an important source of revenue.
Santiago de Guatemala was founded on July 27, 1524 in Iximché as indicated by municipal records. However, tradition has established July 25 as the date when its foundation is celebrated because that is the day of the Apostle Santiago, the patron saint of the city.
As a result of a Kaqchikel rebellion it became necessary to abandon Iximché, which is where the first Capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala was located. The capital city then moved to the Almolonga Valley, located at the foot of the Agua volcano, where the city was settled on November 22, 1527. Ciudad Vieja is currently located at this site. The second capital was destroyed by a current of water and mud that descended from the volcano between September 10 and 11, 1541. The disaster claimed the life of Governor Doña Beatriz de la Cueva, the widow of Pedro de Alvarado. The temporary governors, Guatemala’s first Bishop Francisco Marroquín and Francisco de la Cueva, together with the city hall decided to move the city to the Panchoy Valley where it was settled on March 10, 1543. This new settlement, known today as Antigua Guatemala, was the Capital of the kingdom of Guatemala for 233 years and included the provinces of Chiapas in Soconusco that are now part of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Antigua Guatemala was abandoned after the “Santa Marta” earthquake on July 29, 1773 and the capital moved to the valley of the Virgin (also known as Valley de al Ermita) where it acquired the name Nueva Guatemala de la Asuncion, the current capital of the country.
During colonization, an official designated by the King of Spain ruled the Kingdom of Guatemala. In addition to being the Governor he was also the President of the Hearing, the Captain General and the Royal Vice Patron.
The Royal Hearing was created in 1543 with the name of “Hearing of the Boundaries”. This was a court used for the enforcement of justice and served as a government agency for all the provinces that made up the Kingdom.
During this time, religion played a very important role in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the people. From the point of view of the conquistadors, in addition to political and military actions, it was essential to engage in an evangelical role to convert the inhabitants of the newly conquered territories to Christianity.
Francisco Marroquin was the first Bishop of the Kingdom of Guatemala and the first Archbishop was Fray Pedro Pardo De Figueroa.
The city sheltered 16 religious orders, among them the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Mercaderians, the Jesuits, the Carmelites, the order of Conception, the Claritians and the Capuchinas order. During its highest splendor, Antigua Guatemala witnessed the construction of 38 churches, 15 oratories and several hermitages. In addition to the evangelical work carried out by the church with the defense of indigenous peoples.
The church made valuable architectural and artistic contributions to the fields of architecture, sculpture, painting, music, furniture and silverworks.
In 1530, while Francisco Marroquin was the parishioner of the city, a school was founded for the Creole people. Later, in 1535, the Mercaderians established a school for indigenous people. Several religious orders opened several schools for boys: Santo Domingo, Santo Tomás, San Francisco, Tridentino, San Lucas and San Borja. There were also seven schools for girls where they were taught to read and embroider, as well as household chores and Christian doctrine.
The Royal and Pontifical University of San Carlos was founded in 1676. It was the third one in America after Mexico and Lima. Students could obtain B.S., Doctor in Arts. Theology, Law and Medicine degrees.
At the request of Bishop Payo Enríquez de Rivera, the first printing shop was established in 1660 where literary and journalistic production began. One of the outstanding works produced by the printing shop was the True Story of Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, and the first monthly newspaper in Central America, the Guatemalan Gazette.
Other important chroniclers of the time were: Antonio de Remesal, Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzmán, Fray Francisco Vázquez, Domingo Juárez and Fray Francisco Ximénez, who discovered and translated intro Spanish the manuscript of the Popol Vuh while he was the priest of the Santo Tomás church in Chichicastenango.
In the field of plastic arts, Joseph de Porres and his son Diego, the major architect of the city of Santiago de Guatemala, Pedro de Liendo, Tomás de Merlos, Juan José Rosales, Pedro Francisco Merlos and José Valladares often stand out. The polychrome religious imagery carved in wood is considered to be the most outstanding artistic expression of colonial art. The best carvers and quilters were Quirio Cataño, creator of the Christ of Esquipulas, Alonzo de Paz, Mateo Zúñiga and Juan de Chávez.
The architectural history of Antigua Guatemala is related to the frequent earthquakes it has suffered, forcing the builders of the time to find technical solutions that would enable buildings to survive them.
Antigua’s architectural style began its development in the second half of the XVII century and, according to Marksmann, four construction periods can be identified and separated from each other by earthquakes.
The first period (1650-1680), covers thirty years during which time such churches and convents as Santa Catalina, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (Our Lady of Remedies), San Agustin, San Pedro, Guadalupe, Belén, San Cristobal el Bajo (St. Christopher the Small), the Cathedral and Santo Domingo were built.
During the second period that lasted 37 years (1681-1718), the following churches and convents were constructed: San Francisco, La Merced, Santa Teresa, San Sebastián, La Compañía de Jesús (The Company of Jesús), La Ermita del Espíritu Santo (The Hermitage of the Holy Spirit), Nuestra Señora de los Dolores del Cerro (Our Lady of Pain of the Hill), La Recoleccion (Recollection) and the Archbishop’s Palace.
The period between 1718 and 1751 saw the construction of El Calvario, El Carmen, Candelaria, La Concepción, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Capuchinas, La Escuela de Cristo (the School of Christ), San José el Viejo, Santa Rosa and the Municipal Palace.
The last period (1752-1773) was characterized by the construction of the following buildings: Santa Ana, Santa Isabel, San Jeronimo, La Santísima Trinidad (the Holy Trinity), El Colegio Tridentino, The Royal Palace of Captain Generals and the San Carlos University.