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Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala

Antigua, the capital of the Captaincy-General of Guatemala, was founded in the early 16th century. Built 1,500 m above sea-level, in an earthquake-prone region, it was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1773 but its principal monuments are still preserved as ruins. In the space of under three centuries the city, which was built on a grid pattern inspired by the Italian Renaissance, acquired a number of superb monuments.

Antigua Guatemala

Antigua, capitale de la Capitainerie générale du Guatemala, fut fondée au début du XVIe siècle. Bâtie à 1 500 m d'altitude dans une zone de secousses telluriques, elle fut en grande partie détruite par un séisme en 1773, mais ses principaux monuments sont toujours préservés en tant que ruines. Construite selon un plan en damier inspiré des principes de la Renaissance italienne, elle s'est, en moins de trois siècles, enrichie de monuments superbes.

أنتيغوا غواتيمالا

تأسست أنتيغوا عاصمة القُبطانية العامة في غواتيمالا في مطلع القرن السادس عشر، على ارتفاع 1500 متر عن سطح البحر في منطقة تشهد هزات أرضية. ودُمّرت دماراً جزئياً عام 1773، إلا أنّ أبنيتها الرئيسية لا تزال مصانة كآثار قديمة، وأُعيد بناؤها وفقاً لتصميم مُستوحى من مبادئ النهضة الإيطالية مما أدى إلى إثرائها بالنصب التذكارية الجميلة في أقلّ من ثلاثة قرون.

source: UNESCO/ERI



source: UNESCO/ERI

Город Антигуа-Гватемала (Старая Гватемала)

Антигуа, столица генерал-капитанства Гватемала, была основана в начале XVI в. Расположенный на 1500 м выше уровня моря в зоне сильных землетрясений, в 1773 г. город был сильно разрушен стихией. Но его основные памятники сохранились в виде руин. В течение почти трех столетий город, построенный по прямоугольной сетке со зданиями, возводимыми в стиле итальянского Возрождения, обогатился и другими прекрасными памятниками.

source: UNESCO/ERI

Ciudad de Antigua

La ciudad de Antigua, sede de la Capitanía General de Guatemala, fue fundada a principios del siglo XVI. Edificada a 1.500 metros de altura en una zona de sacudidas sísmicas, fue destruida en gran parte por un terremoto en 1773. Construida con arreglo a un trazado en damero inspirado en los principios del Renacimiento italiano, Antigua llegó a poseer en menos de tres siglos un gran número de monumentos soberbios.

source: UNESCO/ERI


source: NFUAJ

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua is de voormalige hoofdstad van het ‘Capitanía General de Guatemala’, ook wel het Koninkrijk van Guatamala genoemd, dat het grootste deel van Midden-Amerika omvatte in de Spaanse periode. De stad werd in het begin van de 16e eeuw gesticht en ligt 1.500 meter boven de zeespiegel. In 1773 werd Antigua grotendeels verwoest door een aardbeving, maar de belangrijkste monumenten zijn nog bewaard als ruïnes. In een tijdspanne van minder dan drie eeuwen verwierf de stad – gebouwd volgens een schaakbordpatroon geïnspireerd door de Italiaanse Renaissance – een aantal prachtige monumenten. De stad wordt gekenmerkt door koloniale architectuur en moderne bouw in koloniale stijl, in de vorm van herenhuizen en kleinere woningen.

Source: unesco.nl

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Antigua Guatemala © Silvan Rehfeld
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief Synthesis:

Built 1,530.17 m above sea level in an earthquake-prone region, Antigua Guatemala, the capital of the Captaincy-General of Guatemala, was founded in 1524 as Santiago de Guatemala. It was subsequently destroyed by fire caused by an uprising of the indigenous population, re-established in 1527 and entirely buried as a result of earthquakes and an avalanche in 1541. The third location, in the Valley of Panchoy or Pacán, was inaugurated in March 1543 and served for 230 years. It survived natural disasters of floods, volcanic eruptions and other serious tremors until 1773 when the Santa Marta earthquakes destroyed much of the town. At this point, authorities ordered the relocation of the capital to a safer location region, which became Guatemala City, the county’s modern capital. Some residents stayed behind in the original town, however, which became referred to as “La Antigua Guatemala”.


Antigua Guatemala was the cultural, economic, religious, political and educational centre for the entire region until the capital was moved. In the space of under three centuries the city acquired a number of superb monuments.

The pattern of straight lines established by the grid of north-south and east-west streets and inspired by the Italian Renaissance, is one of the best examples in Latin American town planning and all that remains of the 16th-century city. Most of the surviving civil, religious, and civic buildings date from the 17th and 18th centuries and constitute magnificent examples of colonial architecture in the Americas. These buildings reflect a regional stylistic variation known as Barroco antigueño. Distinctive characteristics of this architectural style include the use of decorative stucco for interior and exterior ornamentation, main facades with a central window niche and often a deeply-carved tympanum, massive buildings, and low bell towers designed to withstand the region’s frequent earthquakes. Among the many significant historical buildings, the Palace of the Captains General, the Casa de la Moneda, the Cathedral, the Universidad de San Carlos, Las Capuchinas, La Merced, Santa Clara, among others, are worth noting.

The city lay mostly abandoned for almost a century until the mid-1800s when increased agricultural production, particularly coffee and grain, brought new investment to the region. The original urban core is small, measuring approximately 775 metres from north to south and 635 metres east to west, covering 49.57 hectares.

Criterion (ii): Antigua Guatemala contains living traces of Spanish culture with its principal monuments, built in the Baroque style of the 18th century preserved today as ruins. Antigua Guatemala was a centre for the exportation of religious images and statues to the rest of the American continent and to Spain during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Criterion (iii): Antigua Guatemala is one the earliest and outstanding examples of city planning in Latin America in which the basic grid plan, dating from 1543, has been maintained. Its religious, private and government buildings are outstanding evidences of Spanish colonial architecture in Antigua.

Criterion (iv) The many churches and monasteries in Antigua Guatemala testify to the influence of the Christian church, during the colonial period, on every aspect of daily life in the city. Barroco antigueño developed in this area, a regional adaptation of the Baroque style designed to withstand the earthquakes common in the region.


Antigua Guatemala has retained the integrity of its 16th-century layout and the physical integrity of most of its built heritage. The relocation transfer of the capital after the 1773 earthquake and the abandonment of the area by most of its population permitted the preservation of many of its monumental Baroque-style buildings as ruins. In addition to vulnerability to natural disasters, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes, the conditions of integrity for the property are threatened by tourist exploitation and uncontrolled growth. Further concerns on potential erosion of integrity include the illegal construction and gentrification as well as increased traffic through the historic district.


Due to the partial abandonment of the city in 1776, and the regulations prohibiting the repair and construction of new buildings, the city’s 16th-century Renaissance grid pattern and Baroque-style monumental buildings and ruins have survived along with cobblestone streets, plazas with fountains, and domestic architecture.

While some of the original residences have been fully restored, new construction in recent years has followed a neo-colonial or “Antigua Style”, which impacts the conditions of authenticity. Additional concerns relate to new development that has been inserted into existing ruins. For example the modern hotel (Casa Santo Domingo) was constructed within the ruins of the Santo Domingo church and monastery, which also impact the form and function of buildings. Adaptative re-use of historic buildings, driven by tourism development pressures, is also a matter of concern to be addressed through the enforcement of regulations and development of adequate conservation guidelines.

Protection and Management Requirements

Legal protection for Antigua Guatemala was established in 1944, when the city was declared a national monument with the intention to protect it from uncontrolled industrial and urban development. However, as responsibility was not given to a specific institution, the actual enforcement of protective and regulatory measures was minimal. The Pan-American Institute of Geography and History declared it an American Historical Monument in 1965 which took affect four years later with the approval of Article 61 of the Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala, Legislative Decree 60-69 (Law for the Protection of the City of La Antigua Guatemala). The establishment of the “National Council for the Protection of Antigua Guatemala” in 1972 created an institution responsible for this protection and restoration of the city’s monuments.

Modern development pressure and increased tourism in the area have required more protection for the historic area and certain initiatives, at both the community and legislative levels, have been undertaken. These include recently developed tools for promoting local awareness, the participation by the community association Salvemos Antigua (Save Antigua), as well as a public education campaign (with a newsletter, schoolchildren programs etc.) supported by the Japanese government. The revision of Antigua’s Protection Law, which requires approval of Congress, has also been promoted to adequately respond to existing factors and threats. Sustaining the Outstanding Universal Value of the property will require not only the updating and enforcement of legislative and regulatory measures, but also the definition and efficient protection of a the buffer zone and the sustained implementation of a master plan. The latter will need to include provisions for risk preparedness and disaster risk management, particularly in light of the vulnerability of the property. Comprehensive visitor management and clear conservation guidance and policies, will also be crucial for the property.

Long Description

Antigua Guatemala is an outstanding example of preserved colonial architecture and of cultural value. The religious, private and government buildings bear exceptional testimony to the Spanish colonial architecture in Antigua.

Built 1,500 m above sea level in an earthquake-prone region, Antigua, the capital of the Captaincy-General of Guatemala, was founded in the early 16th century as Santiago de Guatemala. The conquerors chose this location as the previous capital had flooded in 1541 and the valley provided an adequate source of water and a fertile soil. Antigua Guatemala was the seat of Spanish colonial government for the Kingdom of Guatemala, which included Chiapas (southern Mexico), Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. It was the cultural, economic, religious, political and educational centre for the entire region until the capital was moved to present-day Guatemala City after the damaging earthquakes of 1773, but its principal monuments are still preserved as ruins. In the space of under three centuries the city, which was built on a grid pattern inspired by the Italian Renaissance, acquired a number of superb monuments.

Much of the architecture today dates from the 17th and 18th centuries and provides us with a colonial jewel in the Americas. The construction of the Palace of the Captains-General was begun on the original building in 1549 and completed in 1558, but the building has been repeatedly reconstructed following damaging earthquakes. In 1735 the Casa de la Moneda was inaugurated in this large complex, but most of the structure was destroyed in the 1773 quakes. On the east side of the Plaza de Armas stood the cathedral, inaugurated in 1680, after 11 years of construction. The cathedral was laid out with three aisles and salient transepts in a cruciform plan. Bays off the side aisles contained chapels. The present day church is a reconstruction of a small portion of the front of the cathedral. In the centre of the Plaza stands the Fountain of the Sirens, designed in 1739 by architect Miguel Porras. On the north side of the Plaza stands the Ayuntamiento or City Hall dating from 1743 which was little damaged by the 1773 earthquakes.

The Universidad de San Carlos was built around 1763, when the university, founded in 1676, was moved to this site. By the end of the 18th century the building required extensive renovations. The present portal was built in 1832 when the building was turned into a public school, the university having been moved to Guatemala City where it remains today.

Among the masterpiece of religious architecture, one of the most fascinating colonial sites in Antigua is Las Capuchinas (the Capuchin Convent) completed in 1736 under the direction of Diego de Porres, the chief architect of the city. Today the convent is partially intact and partially in ruins. The present church of La Merced was finished in 1767; the facade is one of the most beautiful in Antigua, featuring intricate and ornate patterns in white stucco on a yellow background. The church has short squat bell towers different from the churches built in seismically less active Mexico during the same epoch. The monastery attached to La Merced was totally destroyed by the Santa Marta quakes, and never rebuilt. Another very special ruin is that of the convent of Santa Clara founded in 1699 by the arrival of five nuns and one legate from Mexico. The convent's first church was completed in 1705, but destroyed in 1717. The remains standing today are those of a new church and convent started in 1723 and finished in 1734. The church of El Carmen, completed in 1728, is the third to occupy this site. The main facade of the church is ornate Baroque, and unique in Antigua with its triple pairs of columns set on podia projecting forward from the main wall in place of the niches and saints usually occurring here on Antigua's churches.

Religious and government buildings do not hold a monopoly on Spanish colonial architecture in Antigua, however: colonial architecture and modern construction in colonial style is found throughout Antigua in mansions and in humbler homes.