Sights

In the centre of the city is the
Parque Central
, the old Plaza Real, where bullfights and markets were held in the early days. The present park was constructed in the 20th century though the fountain dates back to the 18th century. The
Cathedral
, to the east, dates from 1680 (the first cathedral was demolished in 1669). Much has been destroyed since then and only two of the many original chapels are now in use. The remainder can be visited. The
Palacio de los Capitanes Generales
is to the south. The original building dates from 1558, was virtually destroyed in 1773, was partly restored in the 20th century, and now houses police and government offices. The
Cabildo
, or
Municipal Palace
, is to the north and an arcade of shops to the west. You can climb to the second floor for a great view of the volcanoes. The
Museo de Santiago
, is in the municipal offices to the north of the plaza, as is the
Museo del Libro Antiguo
, which contains a replica of a 1660 printing press (the original is in Guatemala City), old documents and a collection of 16th- to 18th-century books (1500 volumes in the library). The
Museo de Arte Colonial
, is half a block from Parque Central at Calle 5 Oriente, in the building where the San Carlos University was first housed. It now has mostly 17th- to 18th-century religious art, well laid out in large airy rooms around a colonial patio.

Hotel Casa Santo Domingo is one of Antigua's most beautiful sights - a converted old Dominican church and also monastery property. Archaeological excavations have turned up some unexpected finds at the site. During the cleaning out of a burial vault in September 1996, one of the greatest finds in Antigua's history was unearthed. The vault had been filled with rubble, but care had been taken in placing stones a few feet away from the painted walls. The scene is in the pristine colours of natural red and blue, and depicts Christ, the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and John the Apostle. It was painted in 1683, and only discovered by placing an ultraviolet light over it. Within the monastery grounds are the Colonial Art Museum with displays of Guatemalan baroque imagery and silverware and the Pre-Columbian Art Museum, Glass Museum, Museum of Guatemalan Apothecary and the Popular Art and Handicrafts of Sacatepequez Museum.

There are many fine colonial religious buildings: 22 churches, 14 convents and 11 monasteries, most ruined by earthquakes and in various stages of restoration. Top of the list are the cloisters of the convent of Las Capuchinas, with immensely thick round pillars (1736) adorned with bougainvillea. The church and convent of San Francisco, with the tomb of Hermano Pedro, is much revered by all the local communities. He was canonized in 2002. The church has been restored and now includes the Museo de Hermano Pedro. The convent of Santa Clara, was founded in about 1700 and became one of the biggest in Antigua, until the nuns were forced to move to Guatemala City. The adjoining garden is an oasis of peace. El Carmen, has a beautiful façade with strikingly ornate columns, tastefully illuminated at night, but the rest of the complex is in ruins. Likewise San Agustín, was once a fine building, but only survived intact from 1761 to 1773; earthquake destruction continued until the final portion of the vault collapsed in 1976, leaving an impressive ruin. La Compañía de Jesús, at one time covered the whole block. The church is closed for restoration but you can access the rest of the ruins from 6 Avenida Norte. The church and cloisters of Escuela de Cristo, a small independent monastery (1720-1730), have survived and were restored between 1940 and 1960. The church is simple and has some interesting original artwork. La Recolección, despite being a late starter (1700), became one of the biggest and finest of Antigua's religious institutions. It is now the most awe-inspiring ruin in the city. San Jerónimo, was a school (early 1600s) for La Merced, three blocks away, but later became the local customs house. There is an impressive fountain in the courtyard. La Merced, with its white and yellow façade dominates the surrounding plaza. The church (1767) and cloisters were built with earthquakes in mind and survived better than most. Antigua's finest fountain is in the courtyard. Santa Teresa was a modest convent, but the church walls and the lovely west front have survived. It is now the city's men's prison.

Other ruins including Santa Isabel, Santa Cruz, La Candelaria, San José El Viejo and San Sebastián are to be found round the edges of the city, and there is an interesting set of the Stations of the Cross, each a small chapel, from San Francisco to El Calvario church, which was where Pedro de Betancourt (Hermano Pedro) worked as a gardener and planted an esquisuchil tree. He was also the founder of the Belén Hospital 1661, which was destroyed in 1773. However, some years later, his name was given to the San Pedro Hospital, which is one block south of the Parque Central.

There is a fabulous panorama from the Cerro de la Cruz, which is 15 minutes' walk from the northern end of town along 1 Avenida Norte.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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