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ANTIGUA, AMAZING CAPITAL OF COLONIALISM (80 photos) Send this reportage Send this reportage
Antigua preserves its unique atmosphere of five centuries of glorious history. Mix of Mayan and Spanish-Andalusia cultures, the city is still a bridge between these two civilizations. But Antigua is mostly famous for its Holy Week sumptuous Catholic celebration.
Categories: Human & Ethnology, Tourism, Travel, Special Cultural event
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GUATEMALA. Antigua,founded in 1543, was the Spanish colonial government's seat of Guatemala's Kingdom, which included at that time southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The city is located in a valley between three active volcanoes. The city local name meant the "Very Loyal and Very Noble City of Saint James of the Knights of Guatemala."

In 1773, the city could count a cathedral, a government palace and over 30 churches, 18 convents and monasteries, 15 hermitages, 10 chapels, the San Carlos University, five hospitals, an orphanage, fountains and parks and a municipal irrigation system. Throughout its history,the city now known as Antigua Guatemala, was repeatedly damaged by earthquakes. Untiringly “Antigueños” have rebuilt it, always bigger and nicer. But on July 29,1773, on Santa Marta's day, earthquakes caused such a big destruction that King of Spain ordered to move the capital to safer ground.

Antigua was never completely abandoned. Today its monumental bougainvillea-draped ruins, its preserved and carefully restored Spanish colonial public buildings and private mansions give form to a city of charm and romance unequalled in America. It is a delight to wander down the quaint cobbled streets, along single storey multi-coloured buildings and mansions, magnificent churches, monasteries and convents. Plazas, inner courtyards and fountains are pretty reminders of the Spanish legacy. In 1979 UNESCO listed Antigua Guatemala as World Heritage.

This cosmopolitan colonial city, former capital of "the eternal spring land", proposes plenty of activities. Many people come for Spanish immersion courses in professional schools. Travellers found salsa and others Latin dance classes, Mayan ceremonies, eco-tours (fishing, walking and swimming in the mountains). Antigua is the home of Mayan work of jade. There are still a lot of jade jewelries downtown, with extensive display rooms where you can browse for hours. Remember that the Mayan handicraft market is the right place to get souvenirs.

But Antigua is mainly famous for its Holy Week Catholic celebration. Precious Church “La Merced” is the starting and ending point for the well-known Good Friday procession. The procession involves a cast of many thousands, including Roman centurions and cavalry, self-flagellating penitents, Pontius Pilate, the two thieves, statues of saints and of Christ in various stages along the Via Dolorosa, high Catholic officials with attendants swinging censers, brass bands playing unimaginably dolorous funereal marches, and, of course,Virgin Mary statues carried by women. The procession requires eight hours to pass through Antigua's streets, which are emblazoned with “alfombras” (carpets) of pine needles, flowers and brightly dyed sawdust laid in designs. The climax at any one viewing point is when the gigantic, multi-ton “anda” (float) of Christ carrying the cross, lumbers by swaying from side to side as the 80 bearers step in unison, promoting the illusion that the statue is actually walking.