Majestic volcanoes stand guard over the former capital of the kingdom, La Antigua Guatemala, one of the world's most magnificent colonial capitals. Time stopped here 300 years ago when the Santa Marta earthquake forever left its mark on the thick walls and vaulted ceilings of this noble city. Its stone paved, peaceful parks, fountains and many palaces and cathedrals, are filled with the romance of the ancient era. La Antigua is renowned worldwide for its prime quality coffee and for beautifully crafted objects at excellent prices; La Antigua is also the ideal place to learn Spanish.
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 full title bestowed upon the city was Muy Leal y Muy Noble Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Goathemala, that is, the "Very Loyal and Very Noble City of Saint James of the Knights of Guatemala." For the first century or more of its existence the city did not live up to the pretentious official title, but it ultimately 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. According to many authors, Antigua Guatemala in its heyday, with a population of perhaps 60,000, was surpassed in the New World only by Mexico City and Lima.
Throughout its history the city now known as Antigua Guatemala, or La Antigua, was repeatedly damaged by earthquakes, and always the Antigueños rebuilt, bigger and better. But on July 29, 1773, the day of Santa Marta, earthquakes wrought such destruction that officials petitioned the King of Spain to allow them to move the capital to safer ground, which led to the founding in 1776 of present-day Guatemala City. Antigua was left to rusticate, largely but never completely abandoned. Today its monumental bougainvillea-draped ruins, and its preserved and carefully restored Spanish colonial public buildings and private mansions give form to a city of charm and romance unequaled in the Americas. In 1979 UNESCO recognized Antigua Guatemala as a Cultural Heritage of Mankind site.
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