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2006 AD: Antigua, Guatemala

Establishing an administrative capital for the Spanish colonial powers in Central America might at first not seem as a particularly challenging undertaking for the imperial rule. The Maya town of Iximché was occupied by the conquistadores in 1524 but the Capitán General and his entourage were forced to move only three years later due to relentless attacks by the Kaqchikel Maya. Sitting in the Almolonga valley, the new capital Ciudad Vieja was strategically and geographically a better choice, but a geological misfortune: the entire town was engulfed by a gigantic landslide just 14 years later.

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A new site, only a few kilometres away, was again nothing short of a geological disaster. Known at the time as "La Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Goathemala" it was to be rocked by more earthquakes than there are letters in its name. Many buildings were destroyed more than once, often only just after having been restored. Despite this adversity it slowly and steadily grew into an impressive town worthy as the capital of an overseas empire where splendour and riches were only matched by the grand backdrop of immense volcanic peaks.

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It was not to last: two tremendous earthquakes brought down much of the town in 1773. The damage was so severe that a new capital was built further afield: Guatemala City. The old capital, aptly renamed Antigua, was never fully abandoned however. Now a quiet and sophisticated town its cosmopolitan atmosphere belies the land it once controlled and numerous unrestored structures, collapsed masonry and broken arches serve as a poignant reminder of its scarred colonial and political past.

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Published on 23.12.2006 by Sjaak van der Sar   –   Leave critique or other comments