Final Thoughts on Antigua

September 10, 2015

Before leaving Guatemala, I wanted to add a few historic tidbits about Antigua that I found interesting. 

Antigua was the third capitol of Guatemala. The previous capitol was just south of Antigua in Ciudad Viejo. When a huge mudslide buried the city in the mid 1700s the capitol was moved to Antigua, which was then called Santiago de los Caballeros. 

Several large earthquakes struck Antigua between 1753 and 1773, and the last one did major damage to Antigua and the capitol was moved to Guatemala City, which continues to be the capitol of Guatemala today. Some time after Guatemala City was established as the new capitol, Santiago de los Caballeros began to be called the “Old Guatemala” or Antigua Guatemala. 

When the King of Spain proclaimed that the capitol would move to a new Guatemala City, he also insisted in 1776 that all of the residents of Antigua relocate. Many of these people had spent their entire lives in Antigua and refused to move. Some of them hid in the valley and river areas outside of Antigua when the troops came to force everyone to move. The Spaniards employed an embargo against food into Antigua in an attempt to force people to move. Those hiding in the country were left with nothing to eat except the native plants, After a while, the plant diet began to turn their skin green. The people became known as “Green Belly”, a term which is still used in Antigua today.

After the embargo failed to remove many people from Antigua, the Spaniards tried another tactic. Since there are more than thirty churches and monasteries in Antigua, the Spaniards began removing many of the images and other religious items from inside the churches and moved them to Guatemala City (where they remain today). But the people continued to go to the churches and worshipped outside, where there were many large stone statues on the facades that were too large to be moved. When the Spaniards realized this, they cut off the hands and heads of the statues. This is what I saw when I photographed these churches. I mistakenly assumed that this was the result of earthquake damage, but these statues have been headless and handless since the mid 1770s due to Spanish rule, not due to natural disasters.

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