The History and Culture of Antigua Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala is a magical site to visit, explore, and enjoy with family and friends. It’s a memorable place full of surprises, cobblestones, and color. Today, we’ll learn a little bit about the history, culture, and traditions of this incredible place. ¡Vamos a la Antigua Guatemala!
A Brief History of Antigua Guatemala
First of all, where is Antigua, Guatemala? Guatemala contains 22 departments, and Antigua is the capital of the Sacatepéquez department. It’s a colonial city that for many years was the political, religious, and economic heart of Central America.
It has been founded three different times. The first foundation was in 1523, when Pedro de Alvarado and his group of Spanish conquistadors came to Guatemala and defeated the Mayan kingdom. Pedro de Alvarado became governor and set up his first capital in a city called Iximché. However, he betrayed and enslaved the people in that city and was forced to leave to avoid being killed. He decided to go to a nearby valley.
The second foundation began in 1524, when Alvarado named the valley Ciudad de los caballeros de Santiago de Guatemala. Here, he and his men set up their mini kingdom and lived for many years. Then, in 1541, Alvarado was killed in Mexico and his wife took over the city. However, a mudslide destroyed it and killed many, which is why they decided to move the city yet again.
The rebuilt city finally flourished, and the current Antigua Guatemala is the city’s third foundation. It was the home of the Spanish colonial administration and saw the construction of many incredible and colonial-style buildings. Different governors ruled the city in the name of the King of Spain.
Today, Antigua Guatemala is one of the most visited cities in the country due to the charm of its colonial architecture. In fact, thanks to its rich architecture and culture, Antigua Guatemala has been a cultural heritage site by UNESCO since 1979.
The Culture of Antigua Guatemala
As we’ve seen, Antigua Guatemala is a city full of cultural wealth and many things to discover. Here are four of its most amazing annual traditions.
Procesiones en Semana Santa
The processions in Semana Santa are a must! Accompanied by incense, a solemn atmosphere, flowers, colorful carpets, and live music, they’ll leave you amazed. People carry religious statues from the churches across the colonial city in huge processions.
Fiesta patronal de Antigua Guatemala
Another Antigua Guatemala tradition is its patronal feast, which they celebrate on July 25 in honor of the patron saint of the city, Santiago Apóstol. Although the most important date of this celebration is July 25, Antigüeños celebrate it for a whole week.
Each year, the celebration features diverse and entertaining attractions and activities for all ages. There are rides, contests, fairground games, crafts, shows, and much more. Also, the diverse variety of dishes and typical sweets that you can taste through the streets characterizes this week.
Alfombras de aserrín
Another popular tradition in Antigua Guatemala is the preparation of sawdust carpets for Holy Week. This tradition was born to honor and welcome processions. During Holy Week you’ll see handmade carpets with dyed sawdust and different figures on almost every block. (Learn more about how families traditionally celebrate Easter in Latin America!)
The alfombras are true works of art, as they take loads of dedication and time to make. Everyone gets into the creative process, from residents to restaurants and hotels. It takes days to make each a one-of-a-kind rug with flowers, pictures, and other design elements. They’re amazingly beautiful!
Many of the typical folk dances are a colorful tradition that transformed with the arrival of the Spanish. This combination of cultures gave birth to new forms of dance in Antigua Guatemala that tell about its history, such as the danza de los Moros y Cristianos, the dance of the Giants, or the Convite de los Fieros.
Each of these tells different stories of the colony with the help of dances, masks, and flashy costumes. Folk dances take place throughout the year and are a true spectacle that surprises both people who live in the city and tourists.
If you travel to Antigua Guatemala, you’ll definitely find yourself in a world full of incredible sensations. Discovering the colonial city will make you travel back to a time when horses pulled carriages, people sold ice creams on tiny cars and cotton candy in a big stick, and musicians played instruments on the street and delighted others with their talent. The smell of typical food, the many handicrafts at the markets, and the unique architecture are amazing. And of course, the experience of watching kids playing with bubbles at the park, seeing the vivid sawdust rugs during Semana Santa, and smelling the incense wafting from every church will make your experience out of this world.
A Popular Site
Antigua Guatemala has become a popular place for travelers. How could it not? Over 237,000 tourists visited Antigua in 2014, making it the most important tourist destination in Guatemala. In fact, foreign visitors adore Antigua and account for 23% of the total number of tourists visiting the country, according to INGUAT.
Last year, Antigua received more than 500,000 visitors. In fact, during this same year the country received more than two million foreign travelers, of which 25% went to Antigua. So, if you’re planning your trip to Guatemala and aren’t sure of where to visit yet, put this one on top of your list! You won’t regret it.
Saludos from Antigua Guatemala!
Antigua has so many things to offer, you’ll have a great time with lots of surprises! It’s also the headquarters of Homeschool Spanish Academy! Would you like to meet one of our teachers from Antigua, Guatemala? Sign up for a free class!