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Dates of visit:
March 28, 2006 -
April 18, 2006

We rate this trip a:

Trip Highlights:
 Mayan ruins
 Jungles
 Caribbean coast
 Indian cultures
 Markets
 Semana Santa
 Sawdust carpets
 Processions
 Church ruins
 Volcanoes
 Dirt poor
 

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*** La Antigua ***
*** Popenoe House ***
*** Chichicastenango ***
*** Panajachel ***
Go to first page - Guatemala - Country & Culture
Go to second page - Guatemala City, Esquipulas, Quirigua Ruins
Go to third page - Rio Dulce, Livingston, Flores & Santa Elena, Tikal
Go to fifth page - Semana Santa (Holy Week) Sawdust Carpets & Processions
        La Antigua
        Location of La Antigua
        Site Gallery - La Antigua
        Popenoe House
        Site Gallery - Popenoe House
        Market Town of Chichicastenango
        Location of Chichicastenango
        Site Gallery - Chichicastenango
        Market Town of Panajachel
        Location of Panajachel
        Site Gallery - Panajachel
La Antigua
AntiguaAntigua Guatemala is colonial town. Sited in the Panchoy Valley, it was designated ‘La Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala’ by the conquistadors in 1543. It was the capital of Guatemala for more than 200 years (1543-1776) and was one of the three most important cities in the New World. More than 30 monastic orders called Antigua home and built stunning monasteries, convents and cathedrals in the town. In 1944 the government made Antigua a National Monument and in 1979 UNESCO declared Antigua as a World Cultural Heritage Site.

Antigua is 1530 meters above the sea level, surrounded by three impressive volcanoes: Agua (3766m), Fuego (3763m) and Acatenango (3976m). The first, and lasting impression of Agua, looming above the city in daylight (right, top), is gorgeous. Walking around on the cobblestone streets (right, bottom) there’s a lot to see including many impressive colonial style buildings. Some of these are still in ruins after different earthquakes, while others are currently under reconstruction. Antigua was partially destroyed during the 17th and 18th centuries.

In the Department of Sacatepéquez, (Cerro de Hierba), Antigua may be the most outstanding and best-preserved colonial city in Spanish America. Tourists visit Antigua every year from around the world to enjoy its natural beauty and historic monuments. The Spanish Colonial style permeates every part of the town: its houses, churches, squares, parks and ruins, also its traditions and folklore as well. Antigua is a city of charm and color where you can see and buy an overwhelming variety of attractive, handmade products that honor the traditions of generations of artisans.

Antigua hosts the largest celebrations for Lent and Easter in the Western Hemisphere. The history of the processions dates back to the early 1500s and began with the arrival of Don Pedro de Alvarado from Spain. While many are attracted to the solemn religious fervor, others enjoy the beautiful "alfombras" (sawdust carpets) that are made along the processional routes. Antigua’s most visited attractions being …

  • The Plaza Mayor (Central Park)
  • The Palace of the Captain Generals (1)
  • The Cathedral (2)
  • Palacio del Ayuntamiento (the municipality) (3)
  • The churches of La Merced and San Francisco
  • The Ruins of Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Las Capuchinas )
  • The ruins of Santa Clara
  • The ruins of San Agustín

(1) El Palacio de los Capitanes … a colonial building that was for several centuries the palace of the Spanish Kings’ governors.

(2) Catedral Metropolitana … built in 1543, the cathedral has been semi-destroyed by earthquakes through the years, but is now partly restored and preserves the beautiful colonial details of its Spanish architecture.

(3) Palacio del Noble Ayuntamiento … in colonial times (from 1743) was the headquarters for the Cabildo Español and later used as jail. Now located there are El Museo del Libro Antiguo, El Museo de Santiago and La Municipalidad de Antigua (municipal offices).

Religious Ruins of Antigua ...

The Santa Clara Convent … preparations for Santiago's fourth convent began during the last decade of the seventeenth century. Royal approval for a convent to be founded under the rules of San Francisco was granted in 1693. A house at the east end of the Plaza of San Pedro Apostol was bequeathed with an endowment for the use of the Clarisas, and citizens were generous in their donations. The house was made ready for temporary use as a convent, and a small church was built. Six nuns arrived from Puebla de Los Angeles, Mexico, in December of 1699, and were the guests of Concepcion Convent until they were ceremoniously installed in their own quarters on the 14th of January 1700.

Until 1703 the nuns had the necessary religious departments in their house, and they were carefully cloistered even though their building was not of the regular convent plan. They were successful in obtaining substantial alms, and on February 15, 1703 construction started on a convent building of rough stone and mortar. The building was two-storied and formed three sides of the cloister. This was finished in two years and remained unchanged until 1716.

The formal church of Santa Clara stands at the end of San Pedro Plaza where it is said that the first house of the nuns was located. The church is oriented with the altar to the north and had two public entrances on the west lateral wall. The street wall has a massive and almost forbidding appearance. Even the decorated entrances do not overcome this effect. The exterior of the church is faced with a veneer of cut stone that is marked off by false mortar joints.

The convent building was planned with classic simplicity. A two-storied arcade of excellent proportions surrounded the very large cloister. Stairs were large and conveniently placed, and the rooms of the ground floor were spacious. Most of the walls of the second story have fallen, but the deep window recesses with seats that are still visible suggest that the cells of the nuns were pleasant. A large fountain was centered in the main cloister and a very beautiful smaller fountain was located in a garden south of the kitchen. The tile of the latter was moved to the courtyard of the Governor's quarters in the old Palace of the Captains General about 1936. The were many refinements both in the Church and the Convent of Santa Clara, and for a limit of less than fifty nuns the building appears to have been very spacious.

The San Francisco El Grande Church … the construction of this church and its adjacent convent began in 1542 by the Franciscan order. The buildings could not survive the many earthquakes. The San Francisco church as it stands today was constructed at the end of the 18th century. More restoration and repairs have since been made including the concrete reinforcement added in 1961 that protected the church from suffering serious damage in the 1976 earthquake. The convent was one of the largest in Antigua and had space for up to 80 clergymen.

The Merced … The Mercedery Fathers, from Spain, founded their monastery in Ciudad Vieja, but after the earthquake, it was transferred to its current site in Antigua. On 1749, construction work started on the monastery at the side of the church. A huge fountain, in the middle of the cloister, was used to grow fish in colonial time. From the second level of the ruins, one can clearly view the volcanoes Agua, Acatenango and Fuego, and in the first row lions surround the elegant cupola.

The overly ornate facade of the church reminds the incredible baroque compositions of the Mexican churches. The earthquake of 1717 had destroyed Antigua but the Merced church did not suffer severe damages thanks to its compact construction. However in 1976 the church was in danger. People could visit it again after 1982. Inside the image of Jesus Nazareno is venerated; it's a splendid example of colonial sculpture. Beside San Francisco and the Cathedral, La Merced is one of the functioning parishes today.

The Convent of Capuchinas … also known as Nuestra Senor del Pilar de Zaragoza (Capuchinas) Church and the monastery reflect an architectural austerity. The massive columns of the cloister give harmony to the place and surround a beautiful fountain. The colors of the bougainvillea are remarkable. Work was finished on the church and cloister in 1736. In the back section is located the " retreat tower". The nuns' cells in a circular design were built above a vault supported by one single pillar. After the quakes of 1717, 1751 and 1773 the whole complex was restored. Once transferred to the capital the church and monastery, the artwork followed.


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Site Gallery - La Antigua
 
Near Central Plaza
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Central Plaza Indians
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Mercados
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Ruins of Santa Clara Convent
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San Francisco Church
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La Merced Church
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Ruins of The Convent of Capuchinas
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Popenoe House
Popenoe HouseWhen New Orleans celebrated Mardi Gras six months after Hurricane Katrina (2005) made history, hopefuls predicted the city would be back, rebuilt, in 15 years, more or less. In Guatemala, the house in Santiago de los Caballeros, now Casa Popenoe in La Antigua, celebrated its grand housewarming in 1634 and its rebirth 300 years later, in 1936. There was no rush.

When Wilson and Dorothy Popenoe purchased the place in 1930, their friends thought it was hopeless. "What a mess!" they tsk-tsked. It became a social project. The Popenoes engaged several of those who had made their homes in the ruin during the years when it was left abandoned. The squatters could stay and provide the needed labor. They began by hauling out cartload after cartload of debris that had accumulated over the decades - but only after Dorothy had painstakingly sifted through to collect any remnant to guide her faithful restoration. A tile here, a piece of metal there, a bolt, a hinge, a furniture or door part. Bits of life. What had it been like? Who were the people who lived here so long ago?

Research unraveled the story. Luis de las Infantas Mendoza y Venegas brought his bride to the New World in 1632. He was from Cordova, university educated in Salamanca and Seville; his wife was of Seville society. All this style he brought with him and built the house to fit his appointment as Supreme Court justice in what were literally the golden days of Spain.

Popenoe HouseThe inside would be grand, the outside austere, following Spanish-Moorish tradition to avoid a show. The living, the pulse of life happened inside, privately. Family, servants and guests alike entered through the only door on the street, high enough to enter on horseback. Inside, a second high, stone archway would be cut with graceful Mudejar curves, past which the horses would go left, under another arch to the stables. To the right, three stone steps up would lead to the pride of the house, the sala. It would stretch 90 feet to accommodate large parties, covered with a grooved, beamed cedar ceiling. A corner window would accent three large windows along the street. No need to spare elegance here.

Wide corridors would frame the central garden patio and fountain, with cypress pillars on stone bases. There would be stone doorframes with thick, paneled doors. Large, ridged, medallion windows would look on the garden. Paneled shutters and wooden window spindles would provide privacy, inside and out. Yes, it would be grand. And it was, indeed, one of the finest houses in town.

But by some cruel turns of fate, it was not to last. Luis de las Infantas lived in the house barely a year before he ran into political troubles and faded from fame and fortune. No longer a royal favorite, by 1640 he had been transferred to Mexico, where he carried out a low-level charge and died a poor man in 1682.

The house changed hands several times in a string of bad luck, keeping its sad secrets inside. Neglected and needing repair, it was sold at auction in 1755, barely bringing enough to pay costs and repay a debt to the monastery of Santo Domingo. It seemed like the end when the house, built with so much hope by the ambitious young noble 140 years earlier, fell in a heap in the earthquake of July 1773. But not entirely. The stone doorways stood, some of the doors and the two-part kitchen with low, flat arch, octagonal chimney and two corner ovens.

Almost 150 years later Wilson Popenoe peered "...through the open door and down the long zaguan, stacked high with broken old corridor columns and roof beams," wrote Louis Adamic in The House in Antigua (1937). "Here was a large patio with weeds, brush and cacti growing around and over great piles of debris, which rain, the centuries and human feet had pressed and pounded down so they had the appearance of having always been there. In the center ... he noticed the great Capuchin cypress: a glorious tree, growing out of the dump heap, surrounded by this ruin, which was inhabited by no one could say how many families." After that, whenever he passed by, he stepped into the patio to look at the tree, then 90 years old.

Wilson had traveled the world with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, becoming an ardent avocado advocate. He later worked for United Fruit Company. While based in Guatemala City, Wilson and Dorothy frequently visited La Antigua "...and it was not long before they decided to buy the ruin popularly known as the Casa del Capuchin, and to restore it," wrote Adamic. Dorothy pursued the work passionately. The kitchen at the back and one bedroom had been completed it when a sudden illness took her life. But she left thorough plans, which made it possible for the workers she'd trained to continue carrying out the dream.

Dorothy's daughters, Marion Popenoe Hatch and her sister, now live in the house. Marion remembers the sound of creaking oxcarts on the cobblestones when she was a child, candles lighting the sala and kerosene lamps hanging in the corridor. "Dad wanted to keep the house authentic, so for a long time we didn't have electricity or running water.

A new kitchen occupies the space of the old servants' quarters, but the original kitchen is today as it was then, with "the smoke of the ages," Marion notes, amused, of the blackened chimney. The family still dines in the larger part of the 16th century kitchen; and in one of the courtyards, the large, old pila ("one side for dishwashing, the other for laundry") still provides water.

Water was tubed from the pila by force of gravity to tanks constructed behind the kitchen wall. It passed alongside the stove, through the wall to the bathroom and emptied into a small, tiled tub next to a full-size, sunken bathtub. The hot water was mixed with the cold to have a warm bath.

The more-than-100-hole pigeon house, reached by a narrow stairway off a courtyard, presumably used to send reports by carrier pigeon, was the perfect place for the children's private club. "We had a password and everything!" Marion remembers. A spiral stairway led further up to the terrace-the top of the world for the children, with views of hills, volcanoes, domes, cupolas and dozens of church bell towers.

Eventually Wilson remarried. Helen, having lived in Spain and traveled extensively for a Chicago art museum, ably furnished the house with the collection that fills it today. Years later, a widower again, Wilson married Alice, a long-time Swiss friend he'd known in Honduras, who "... filled the house with flowers and baked baskets of Christmas cookies." Life and happiness had come back to the house.

A house with so much history begs the question: Is there a ghost? "Maybe, but it's a good ghost," Marion assures with a twinkle in her eye. "Certainly there's a feeling here. People say they feel something." She hurries to explain that she's not a mystic. She is, in fact, an accomplished archaeologist, teaching at the University del Valle and actively researching the site Takalik Abaj. Scientifically, she goes on, "When things are balanced and in proportion, it feels good. I know when the house feels good. It knows when it's loved."

"There has always been a magic about the house. There are moments, when the moonlight shines on the old pila ... I try to relive them and not let them go," Marion says wistfully. She does love the house. She and her brother are proceeding to guarantee its future as a museum. As Wilson Popenoe wrote in a letter in 1937, "It was Dorothy's wish that all those persons who are seriously interested in the Colonial period of Guatemala should see the house."

Source: “REVUE, Guatemala’s English-language Magazine”, April 2006, Joy Houston.


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Site Gallery - Popenoe House
 

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Chichicastenango
ChichicastenangoChichicastenango … is a small and stucco-white town, lying at an altitude of 1,965 meters. It is home to what is surely the most colorful native market in North and Central America, perhaps in all the Americas.

The famous handicraft market of Chichicastenango draws not only the K'iche' Maya of the surrounding region, but vendors from all over Guatemala. They represent many of Guatemala's linguistic groups such as Mam, Ixil, Kaqchikel and others, each hawking their products in a riotous cacophony of color, dialects and costumes, smoke, and smell. This town in the mountains of Quiche has been, since pre-Hispanic times, one of the largest trading centers in the Maya area.

Vendors begin setting up portable booths in the main plaza and adjacent streets of "Chichi" the night before and set-up continues in the early daylight hours. Outstanding among the items offered are textiles, particularly the women's blouses. The manufacture of masks, used by dancers in traditional dances has also made this city famous for woodcarving. Much of what is sold is of good quality, but there are also products in Chichi's many factories for the not-so-discerning foreign companies.

Another major attraction in Chichicastenango is the 400-year old church of Santo Tomas, which is situated next to the market. Shamans still use it for their rituals, burning incense and candles and in special cases sacrificing a chicken for the gods. Each of the 18 stairs that lead up to the church stands for one month of the Mayan calendar year. The Mayan calendar has 18 months of 20 days each.
Source: http://www.enjoyguatemala.com/chichicastenango.htm


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Site Gallery - Chichicastenango
 

Chichi Chichi Chichi
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Panajachel
Lake Atitlan Panorama
PanajachelPanajachel is picturesquely nestled in the Guatemalan highlands providing breathtaking views of three volcanoes and Lake Atitlan. The volcanoes, Toliman, Atitlan and San Pedro create an awesome backdrop. Panajachel is the doorway to explore all the indigenous villages around Lake Atitlan. These villages are famous for its women weavers and their typical clothes.

During the period of the Spanish conquest of Guatemala, the shore of the lake was the scene of the great battle in which the Spanish and their Cakchiquel allies defeated the Tzutuhils. The Spanish set up a church and monastery in Panajachel soon afterward, and used the town as a center for converting the Indians of the region to the Catholic faith. The original facade of the church stills stands, and is one of the gems of the colonial style in Guatemala. Panajachel's busy market street (Calle Santander) is one of the better places in Guatemala to shop for souvenirs.
Source: http://www.panajachel.com/aboutpanajachel.htm


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Site Gallery - Panajachel
 

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Text partially extracted from the Internet sites referenced
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