The City of Antigua, Guatemala is surrounded by three volcanoes and has been wracked by earthquakes since its inception in 1530. Six quakes in the period of 1530 to 1585 leaves one wondering why the Spanish Crown would designate it the Capital of Guatemala in 1543 which at the time included most of Central America, the state of Chiapas in Mexico and Belize.
It remained the capital for 230 years enduring several quakes early on and then again in 1717, 1751 and a huge one in 1773. It is said that with the Catholics firmly in control it was believed that the quakes were divine punishment and during the multi-day quake of 1751 people poured into the streets loudly confessing their sins! Seems strange the Spanish destroyed old Mayan temples and built their cathedrals over them and then God came along and shook them apart!
The 1773 quake though was a turning point when most of the city was destroyed yet again and the Crown decided to move the capital to Guatemala City. It wasn’t until then that the city was renamed Antigua. The city was largely abandoned and laid mostly in ruins until the early 20th century when the importance of its architectural heritage began to be recognized. The most recent earthquake was in 1976 owing to it’s location in a seismic hot-spot. In 1979 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today Antigua is a gorgeous Spanish colonial city with a huge tourist infrastructure and is visited by people from around the world.
I’ve read that when one is subjected to the long discussions about where the ‘real Guatemala’ is you can be certain that the town Antigua never comes up. This may be true and at the same time why miss it just because the trash is picked up, the town is orderly, traffic is controlled, many of the power lines are underground and the stray dogs ‘disappear.’ It is a pretty Spanish colonial town with wider cobble stone streets than we’ve seen during our journey so far, where two vehicles can actually pass in most places. At this point in our odyssey a little part fantasy mixed in with Guatemala is just fine by us.
Being so close to volcanoes it’s imperative that one take the opportunity to get up close and personal which we did on a day trip to Volcan Pacaya, Guatemala’s most active volcano. Our group included a group of young women from Norway. When we started the trek up the volcano, Ann and I could not believe how we were lagging behind. We were always last to get to the rest stops and it being hot and humid we were drenched in sweat. There were horses that followed the group in case weary hikers opted to ride rather than walk. The horses were right on our heels breathing down our necks and the caballeros kept shouting out “Taxi, taxi!” Not on your life, we are NOT going to wimp out. What is wrong with us, we kept asking and then we realized, oh that’s right they’re 18-20 years old!
At one point we stopped and roasted marshmallows at one of the fumeroles (volcanic vents coming through the rock.)
Adjacent to the hardened lava flow is the closest store in the world to an active volcano. The “Lava Store” sells local handicrafts using the actual hardened lava in their work. The most recent eruption was in 2010 which devastated several local villages. This was their way of making lemonade out of lemons. The shop has gained a lot of notoriety and was even written about by National Geographic.