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 Guatemala.
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 rivaled 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 favor 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 have 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".
Easter Week in Antigua Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala is famous for its vibrant, elaborate religious festivities during the Antigua Semana Santa, or Holy Week, leading up to Easter. Thousands of national and international visitors crowd the cobblestoned streets to watch the costumed processions, reenactments of the crucifixion, and other ceremonies.
The most awe-inspiring part of Antigua's Semana Santa, however, are the brilliant carpets, or "alfombras". Sand or sawdust is used to level the cobblestones, and is dyed different colors and interwoven with bright flowers, other plants, and pine needles. The result is designs so intricate, it seems tragic when the processions pass over and trample them!
Mayan Culture Guatemala
The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization , noted for the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as its art , architecture , and mathematical and astronomical systems. Initially established during the Pre-Classic period (c. 2000 BC to 250 AD), according to the Mesoamerican chronology, many Maya cities reached their highest state development during the Classic period (c. 250 AD to 900 AD), and continued throughout the Post-Classic period until the arrival of the Spanish. At its peak, it was one of the most densely populated and culturally dynamic societies in the world. The Maya civilization shares many features with other Mesoamerican civilizations due to the high degree of interaction and cultural diffusion that characterized the region. Advances such as writing, epigraphy, and the calendar did not originate with the Maya; however, their civilization fully developed them. Maya influence can be detected from Honduras, Guatemala, and to as far as central Mexico, more than 1000 km (625 miles) from the Maya area. Many outside influences are found in Maya art and architecture, which are thought to result from trade and cultural exchange rather than direct external conquest.
The Maya peoples never disappeared, neither at the time of the Classic period decline nor with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores and the subsequent Spanish colonization of the Americas.
Today, the Maya and their descendants form sizable populations throughout the Maya area and maintain a distinctive set of traditions and beliefs that are the result of the merger of pre-Columbian and post-Conquest ideas and cultures. Many Mayan languages continue to be spoken as primary languages today; the Rabinal Achí, a play written in the Achi' language, was declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO n 2005.