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Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala

A Bit of Antigua Guatemala History

The city of Antigua, capital of Sacatepéquez Province, Guatemala, is a charming old colonial city that for many years was the political, religious and economic heart of Central America. After being destroyed by a series of earthquakes in 1773, the city was abandoned in favor of what is now Guatemala City, although not everyone left. Today, it is one of Guatemala’s top visitor destinations.

The city was declared a National Monument by the Guatemalan government in 1944, a Monument of the Americas by the General Assembly of the Pan American Institute of Geography and History in 1965 and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

The Conquest of the Maya

In 1523 a group of Spanish conquistadores led by Pedro de Alvarado swept into what is now northern Guatemala, where they came face to face with the descendants of the once-proud Maya Empire. After defeating the mighty K’iche kingdom, Alvarado was named Governor of the new lands. He set up his first capital in the ruined city of Iximché, home of his Kaqchikel allies. When he betrayed and enslaved the Kaqchikel, they turned on him and he was forced to relocate to a safer area: he chose the lush Almolonga Valley nearby.

Second Foundation

The previous city had been founded on July 25, 1524, a day dedicated to St. James. Alvarado thus named it “Ciudad de los Caballeros de Santiago de Guatemala,” or “City of the Knights of St. James of Guatemala.” The name moved with the city and Alvarado and his men set up what essentially amounted to their own mini-kingdom. In July of 1541, Alvarado was killed in battle in Mexico: his wife, Beatriz de la Cueva, took over as Governor. On the unlucky date of September 11, 1541, however, a mudslide destroyed the city, killing many, including Beatriz. It was decided to move the city once again.

Third Foundation

The city was rebuilt and this time, it prospered. It became the official home of the Spanish colonial administration in the area, which covered most of Central America up to and including the southern Mexican State of Chiapas. Many impressive municipal and religious buildings were built. A series of Governors ruled the region in the name of the King of Spain.

Provincial Capital

The Kingdom of Guatemala never much in the way of mineral wealth: all of the best New World mines were in Mexico to the north or Peru to the south. Because of this, it was difficult to attract settlers to the area. In 1770, the population of Santiago was only about 25,000 people, of which only 6% or so were pure-blooded Spanish: the rest were mestizos, Indians and blacks. In spite of its lack of wealth, Santiago was well-located between New Spain (Mexico) and Peru and developed into an important commercial hub. Many of the local aristocracy, descended from the original conquistadors, became merchants and prospered.

Earthquakes Destroy the City

In 1773, a series of major earthquakes leveled the city, destroying most of the buildings, even the ones which had been well built. Thousands were killed, and the region was plunged into chaos for a while. Even today you can see fallen rubble at some of Antigua’s historical sites. The decision was made to move the capital to its present location in Guatemala City. Thousands of local Indians were conscripted to move what could be salvaged and to rebuild on the new site. Although all of the survivors were ordered to move, not everyone did: some remained behind in the rubble of the city they loved.

Population

The population of Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala is 39368 according to the Geo-Names geographical database.

Latitude, Longitude, and Elevation

Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala is located at 14.5611 [latitude in decimal degrees], -90.7344 [longitude in decimal degrees] at an elevation/altitude of meters. The average elevation of Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala is 1578 meters above the sea level.

Timezone

The time zone id for Antigua Guatemala is America/Guatemala. The area code of the city is (502) before the local number to dial, and the zip code is 3001.

Volcanoes in Antigua

Three large volcanoes dominate the horizon around Antigua.
Volcán Agua: Agua is the nearly perfectly conical mass that looms 10 km (6 mi) directly south of Antigua and forms its postcard backdrop. The 3,760-meter (12,335-foot) mountain was named “water” by Spanish colonists who saw the volcano spew rivers of water and rock over their original capital at nearby Ciudad Vieja in 1541. That is the last time Agua erupted, although volcanologists say that the volcano will always pose some risk to Antigua. Agua offers the easiest ascent of the four regional volcanoes, but its lack of activity means you go for the views and little else.

It’s impossible not to discuss these two volcanoes together, joined at the hip as they are by a high ridge. Area residents refer to the massif, 19 km (11½ mi) southwest of Antigua, as the camellón (“the big camel”). Acatenango itself is two summits, the 3,976-meter (13,044-foot) Pico Mayor and the 3,880-meter (12,729-foot) Yepocapa. Acatenango blew its top in 1924 and 1927, but has been dormant for more than three decades. However, sulfur gases fizz up through its fumaroles. The same is not true for the continuously active 3,763-meter (12,345-foot) Fuego, whose name means “fire” in Spanish. The name is apt, low-level though its activity may be. Climbing Fuego and Acatenango is for experts only.

Temperature Antigua

Guatemala is located in tropical Central America around 14 degrees northern latitude and one would expect the country to have a solidly tropical climate. That is not the case, however.

Large parts of Guatemala are very mountainous and climate depends much more on altitude than on latitude. While there are in fact areas with a tropical climate, there are others where nighttime temperatures can drop below freezing.

At Antigua the temperate zone extends from approximately 1,000 m (3,300 ft) to 2,000 m (6,600 ft) above sea level. Daytime temperatures rarely exceed 30° C (85° F) and nights are pleasantly cool.

In the tropics temperatures are fairly uniform year round and seasonal changes are not nearly as pronounced as farther north or south of the equator. Instead of temperature, precipitation defines the seasons, and there are only two of them: the dry season, which locals often call summer, and the rainy season, which is often called winter.

The rainy season begins around mid-May and lasts until October or November, interrupted by a short dry period of about two weeks in late July or early August.

“Rainy season” does not mean, however, that it rains all day long. On a typical day, there is sunshine in the morning before the clouds begin to appear in the afternoon and it rains for an hour or two. The rain is often followed by a few more hours of sunshine and during the night more rain is likely.

It does happen occasionally that it rains all day long, but that is actually quite rare. On the other hand, it also happens that it does not rain at all for two or three days.

Just like the rainy season is not all rain, the dry season is not entirely dry. A typical month during the dry season has about three of four rainy days, particularly at the beginning of the dry season. Towards the end of the dry season, in March, April and early May, rain showers are few and far between and you may well spend several weeks in Guatemala without seeing a single drop of rain.

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