Most people know that Antigua used to be the capital of Guatemala, but it was actually the third capital of the country. The Spanish first settled at the site of Iximché in July 1524 and then they moved the capital a few years later, in November 1527, into the Almolonga valley, to the site of Ciudad Vieja, a few kilometers from Antigua. In 1541, however, this entire town was lost beneath a massive mud slide and only then did the capital come to rest in Antigua, known in those days as La Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de Los Caballeros de Goathemala.
As the heart of colonial power in Central America, one by one the religious orders established themselves in Antigua, competing in the construction of schools, churches, monasteries and hospitals. Bishops built grand places that were soon rivalled by the homes of local merchants and wealthy government officials.
The city reached its peak in the middle of the eighteenth century, after the 1717 earthquake prompted an unprecedented building boom, and the population rose to around fifty thousand. By this stage Antigua was a genuinely impressive place with a university, a printing press, a newspaper and streets that were seething with commercial and political rivalries. Future earthquakes brought all of this to an abrupt end. For many months, the city was shaken by tremors, with the final blow delivered by two severe shocks on September 7 and December 13,1773. The damage was so great that the decision was made to abandon the city in favour of the modern capital.
Since then the city has gradually repopulated, particularly in the last hundred years. As Guatemala City has become increasingly congested, many have returned to Antigua. They´ve been joined by resident and visiting foreigners, attracted by the city´s relaxed yet sophisticated atmosphere, increasingly lively cultural life and wonderful climate.
In recent years concern has mounted for the fate of the city´s ancient architecture. Antigua was the first planned city in the Americas, originally built on a rigid grid pattern, with neatly cobbled streets and grand buildings.
Of this tremendous colonial legacy, some buildings now lie in ruin, others are steadily decaying, but many have been restored as hotels, restaurants and private residences. Designated as a National Heritage Site by the U.N., Antigua now has excellent prospect for continued renewal.
The city of La Antigua Guatemala won first in category of best tourist destination city in 2009 by the London Magazine Wanderlust. According to the British publication, Antigua, "..is a town of bougainvillea-lined streets and top-class language schools huddled by three volcanoes. It has an abundance of beautiful old colonial churches, a wonderful vibrant market, incredibly kind people, ‘great, inexpensive local restaurants’, ‘fascinating Spanish and Mayan history’. It is a great base for exploring the surrounding volcanoes and lakes".
Places to visit around town, click here for our Antigua Guatemala Map