Antigua

Trip Start Nov 26, 2009
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Trip End Dec 10, 2009


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Flag of Guatemala  , Western Highlands,
Sunday, November 29, 2009

I walked into town today to first of all buy a new battery for my film camera (the little digital uses common AA's but the film camera uses a "special" battery) and found a camera store across from the Parque Central that had what I needed.  So now I can take both the digital pictures I'm sharing with you as well as slides from a better camera.

Like all towns, in the center of Antigua there's a central square, which, in Antigua is now a park surrounded by a cathedral, stores and government buildings.  Antigua's is large and beautiful, full of flowering shrubs, trees and fountains.  It's impossible to capture in a picture because of its size and all the large trees.  In colonial times it was a more open square and a large market was set up.  The market was sometimes cleared away for bullfights, military parades, public floggings, public hangings and other forms of public entertainment.

The Parque Central has at its center what is probably the most photographed fountain in Guatemala.  Designed by the primary architecht of the city it features mermaids covering their breasts with their hands and water streaming from their nipples.  Today being Sunday there were a lot of people enjoying the park.  Unlike Guatemala City, I'm finding the people here very friendly.  I commonly get a smile and an "hola" from people I pass on the street or looking at a site of interest, which not uncommonly turns into a more extensive conversation when they discover I speak Spanish.

On the south side of the Parque Central is the Palace of the Captains General.  A long two-story building with 27 arches on each floor.  It was originally built in 1558 but, like most buildings here, was destroyed by earthquake and rebuilt, first in 1761 and again in 1773.  It's currently under restoration.  It used to house the colonial rulers, barracks of the dragoons, stables, the royal mint, courts, tax offices, ballrooms, etc. etc.  More recently (before the current restoration) it was home to the Sacatepéquez Police Department and the local tourist office.

On the east side of the Parque Central is the Cathedral, originally built in 1545.  This version didn't last long, being destroyed by (you guessed) earthquake in 1583.  A new cathedral was built in 1670 by conscripted Maya labor.  This cathedral was massive with five naves, 18 chapels and a central area 90 meters by 20 meters (295 feet by 65 feet).  It, too, was first damaged by earthquakes in 1689 and 1717.  The walls came tumbling down in the earthquake of 1773.  Two of the original 18 chapels have been restored and today are the Church of San José.

Walking north from the Parque I passed under the arch of Santa Catalina, which is all that remains of a convent founded here in 1609.  The arch was originally built so the nuns could walk between the two halves of the convent without being sullied by contact with the outside world.  The view of the arch looking south shows the Volcán de Agua which towers over the town.  It was hazy so it's hard to make out the volcano in my picture.  Though I understand that's normally the case, I'll try to get a picture that more clearly shows the volcano to post.

Further north is the church of La Merced which has been impressively restored.  There was a small market in front of the church with it's collection of stalls.  I bought lunch at one of them - freshly barbequed beef tacos on handmade corn tortillas.  Fried banana covered with cream and sugar was desert.

From there I went west to the ruins of San Jerónimo, a school built in 1739.  These ruins really are impressive and, I understand, this site is frequently used for classical music concerts which are held among the ruins.  While wandering and photographing I met an off-duty Guatamalan soldier who was out from his home in Guatemala City with his family.  He was back in Guatamala after serving as part of a UN peace-keeping mission in Africa.  He wanted a picture of me with his family and invited me to his home when I return to Guatemala City.  I took a picture of him with his family, thanked him for his generous offer but declined to return to Guatemala City.

From here it was all the way back across town to the southeast.  It was my intent to see the Casa Popenoe, a restored colonial mansion originally built in 1634 but there was a sign out front saying it was closed until further notice.  I'll check back before I leave Guatemala but I don't expect to be able to get in.  The story of this mansion is amazing, though.  It was in ruins when it was bought by a United Fruit Company scientist in 1932.  He sifted through the rubble and, piece by piece, restored the mansion to its former glory then filled it with colonial-era antiques and art.  The house includes a pigeon loft.  Those pigeons provided the residents with their mail service.

Further south is the Church of San Francisco, one of the oldest churches in Antigua, dating from 1579.  It eventually became a huge complex that included a hospital, a school and a monastery.  When the monastery was destroyed (yep... in an earthquake) it was never rebuilt and you can tour the ruins.  This was the home of Hermano Pedro de Betencourt, a Franciscan from Tenerife in the Carnary Islands, who was made Central America's first saint by John Paul II in 2002.  He's credited with numerous miraculous healings and an entire room in the little museum on-grounds is filled with hundreds of plaques from people thanking him and attesting to their healing by his intervention.  Some of those plaques are dated 2009, although he died in 1667.

The camera equipment I was carrying felt as if it was gaining weight, I was getting tired of lugging it around, and it was getting dark so I hiked back to my room to fix myself dinner, check email, and write this blog entry.  Haven't yet decided where I'm going tomorrow but I'd probably better decide soon.  I'll let you know.
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Comments

Eric Dyssegard on

Hi Steve,

Fantastic pictures of Guatamala - you really capture it well.
love the commentary too!

Eric

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