Saturday, May 03, 2008

Antiquing in Antigua

Mom, dad and I left Panajachel and headed over to La Antigua Guatemala (the Old Guatemala), better known as simply Antigua. Antigua was the capital of Guatemala until a series of earthquakes over the course of several centuries persuaded the authorities that it was going to be cheaper in the long run to move everyone to the new capital than to rebuild every couple years, so the capital was moved to La Nueva Guatemala (the New Guatemala), aka Guatemala City and the former Guatemala City was renamed La Antigua in a kind of Istanbul/Constantinople thing. (Dear Antigua Guate: Them's the breaks / You just simply had too many 'quakes.)




It's a charming town stuck several centuries in the past because its main industry dried up and has been unintentionally preserved while its neighbors modernized, like Rothenburg ob der Tauber and and Bruges in Germany and Belgium, respectively. While at first it was by chance that things stayed the way they were, it is of course now carefully preserved, as the town is very conscious of its status as an attraction for tourists.

The earthquake-damaged ex-cathedral reminded me of some ruins in Rome, particularly the Basilica of Constantine, in certain ways.

The place is indeed crawling with gringos, and not just tourists, it seems. Someone told me (or maybe I read it, I forget) that some astonishingly high proportion of Antigua's residents are foreigners, somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 percent. That seems way too high, and though mine was at best a cursory survey I would say the figure can be no more than 25 percent.


They also sell many textiles and other souvenirs to tourists and others, and we of course bought some of that.

A nice little town, all in all. The next day we took a cab over to Guatemala City to get on the bus to head back to Honduras, but on the way passed through the "Plaza Estado de Israel," I imagine a monument to Guatemala's role in the establishment of the Jewish state. (As I'm told, Guatemala's position and intention to vote in the United Nations in 1947 was not pre-announced, and put Israel over the top in a key resolution.

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