Finding destruction and rebirth in the ruins of San Francisco

Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.  -Frank Gehry

It was nearing the end of the day and perhaps Lucy chose to save the best for last.  We had time to see just one more set of ruins in Antigua.  The spectacular ruins of the church of San Francisco.

The building was constructed in 1542 only to be hit by a series of damaging earthquakes in 1565, 1717, 1751 and 1773.  Thankfully a tremendous amount of reconstruction took place and the church remains the oldest functioning church in Antigua today.  It’s gorgeous facade is perhaps the best part as it depicts intricately-sculpted saints and friars, who in a sense welcome the visitors inside.  However, of course, knowing me and my passion for ruins, I found the ruins behind the church to be the real treasure of this site.

Come, follow me inside the spectacular ruins of Iglesia de San Francisco and judge for yourself….

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The handicraft market alongside the ruins of El Carmen

The ruins of El Carmen are yet another set of impressive, post earthquake ruins that raise up to the Antiguan sky.  Unfortunately these ruins are not open to the public, however, the colorful Mercado del Carmen, a Mayan textile market, is open and ready for business

I found this series of photos around the ruins of El Carmen to be some of my most favorite from the trip.  The array of colors, culture and architecture capture the heart and soul of Antigua and her mystical charm.   Unfortunately there is not much information on El Carmen however the pictures themselves perhaps tell a story of what this lovely church must have been like before it became destroyed over years of earthquakes. And the lovely colorful market which surrounds the ruins provide one more example of the majestic Mayan culture in all its splendor.

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The ruins of the Iglesia y Convento de Santa Clara

After the delightful scene of the women washing at La Tanque de la Union, Lucy and I went to see the nearby ruins of Santa Clara where we were in for yet another surprise.  

Established by two Mexican sisters, the Iglesia y Convento de Santa Clara was inaugurated in 1734 only to be destroyed 40 years later by a massive earthquake.  Not much of this ornate structure was left intact however perhaps by an act of grace the church’s magnificent facade was left relatively unharmed and is still standing strong today.

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Women Washing at the Tanque de la Union

One of the best things about wandering around a new city with a local is the special surprises. Lucy, a resident of Antigua for the past five years and a professional photographer and travel writer, knew exactly where to take me on my 24 hour stint in Antigua.  We hit all the main tourist attractions in this UNESCO World Heritage city as well as the beloved ruins, best views, greatest cafes and restaurants and more.  It was a day I’ll never forget.

After our marvelous lunch at La Cueva de Urquizo it was time to hit the pavement once again.  It was well past three and we still had so much more to see and do before the sun set across the brightly colored buildings of Antigua.

This time, Lucy brought me to a special place.  The public laundry washbasin called the Tanque de la Union in Antigua, where the Mayan women gather to gossip, socialize and do their laundry.  In colonial times, public water tanks and washbasins served as the prime gathering place for the local women to do their wash and catch up with the latest town news and gossip.  Today, these public washbasins can still be found throughout Guatemala in cities and the countryside as well around rivers and other natural water sources.

What I found so incredibly amazing about the Tanque de la Union was the explosion of colors.  The Mayan women were true to form, dressed in their spectacular handcrafted clothing with their children nearby and loads and loads of laundry packed in plastic bags.  The thought that they had to walk perhaps several miles to this water basin with children and clothes on their back, and then make the return trip with heavy, wet clothing on their back, was astounding.

To think of how difficult this would be to a me, a Western woman with a washer and dryer to do it all for me, made me realize once again how different our lives are.  Yet for these women, perhaps a visit to the public water basin to do their laundry and laugh with their friends, was the highlight of their busy, hard day.  Something to remember.

Follow me through the brilliantly colorful photos of my visit to marvel at the local women washing at the golden Tanque de la Union….

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Antigua, Guatemala

Eating like the locals in Guatemala

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ― Lao Tzu

Lucy and I hit the pavement hard in the morning, walking and taking pictures as if we were on some kind of crazy photography marathon.  Lucy lives in Antigua.  However, I only had one full day to see as much of this amazing city as possible.  And, amazing Antigua was.

I was completely captivated by everything I saw.  Every step was a photographic moment. Every building had a story to tell.  The rooftops were often in a spray of blossoming flowers in hues of purples, pinks and white.  The peeling paints telling the tales of centuries ago.  The missing cobblestones making each street a unique albeit tiring journey.  The mysterious volcanoes.  Threatening and looming off in the distance.  The colorfully dressed indigenous people.  Everything was a Kodak moment.  The problem was there simply wasn’t enough time.

Beautiful typical buildings and homes. There are many streets like this in Antigua. 

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The ruins behind La Merced

As I mentioned in my earlier post “Antigua’s Magnificent Le Merced“, the ruins behind this spectacular church, which resulted from a series of dramatic earthquakes over the centuries, are perhaps as equally impressive as the golden yellow exterior of La Merced herself.  It is a tough call however I have to say that there is something haunting and exciting about ruins.  I love them.

I’ve seen the fabulous ruins of Rome, spent four days hiking to the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, and took an overnight dilapidated Greek ship on my honeymoon (while sleeping on the stinky floor underneath the luggage holder) just to catch a glimpse of the Turkish ruins of Ephesus.  Let’s just say, I really like ruins and there are many more that I desire to see. (Only problem of course is time.  Most ruins are in far off destinations that make it hard for  me to see at this point in my life).

At least I was able to get my fix of ruins in Antigua!  Antigua is loaded with ruins thanks (or no thanks) to all the earthquakes.  The monastery ruins behind La Merced proved to be quite impressive with its centerpiece being a 27-meter in diameter fountain which is believed to be the largest fountain in Central America.

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Antigua’s magnificent La Merced

Hands down, the most beautiful church in all of Antigua and perhaps all of Guatemala is the magnificent Iglesia y Convento de Nuestra Señora de la Merced (La Merced for short). Construction began in 1548 by the Mercedery Fathers who dreamed of building a temple, yet the church suffered several setbacks due to Antigua’s infamous earthquakes which wreaked havoc and destruction throughout the city.

It wasn’t for another two hundred years that the cloister and sanctuary were finally built and finished in 1749.  Then another traumatic earthquake struck Antigua in 1773 causing significant damage to the church and leaving its marvelous ruins behind it.

Today, La Merced is one of the only old churches that is still offering services on a regular basis and its brilliant yellow and white colors are a delight to the eyes and the soul.  When the Antiguan sky is clear and royal blue, the brilliant gold-yellow of La Merced is perhaps one of the most glorious sights in all of Guatemala.  Here are some photos of the magnificent La Merced and you can judge for yourself.

La Merced blends in perfectly with Antigua’s brightly colored colonial buildings and architecture.  Here is a glimpse of the church on the lefthand side of the photo. 

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The ruins of Catedral de Santiago

Antigua’s long tumultuous history of natural catastrophes have left a bittersweet mark on this nearly 500-year-old city.  Founded in March 10, 1543 by the Spanish conquistadors Antigua became the third capital of Guatemala and the capital remained there for over 200 years until death and destruction struck too many times.

In 1717 a devastating earthquake struck the area, demolishing over 3,000 buildings and leaving the gorgeous colonial city in ruins.  Over time, churches and buildings were rebuilt in force while Antigua continued to grow in power and prestige despite the geographical hazards and continual rumblings.   It took an even more devastating earthquake, which struck on July 29, 1773, to finally force the Guatemalan government to pack their bags and move the capital once again, this time to Guatemala City where it remains today.

What makes Antigua so incredibly striking and fascinating is that like the ancient city of Rome, the ruins remain.  Behind every gorgeous, serendipitous church can be found an equally impressive, spectacular set of ruins that give the visitor a glimpse of what once laid there hundreds of years before.  It can be argued that the ruins are in fact what make this city so incredibly divine.   Yes, the cobblestone streets, the three triangular volcanoes, a vibrant indigenous culture and colorfully painted buildings are sensational.  Yet, the ruins which are barren and open up naked to the sky, are beyond imagination.

Judge for yourself and take a walk with me through the ruins of Antigua.

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A second breakfast at Cafe Condesa

My first and only full day in Antigua was a full day indeed.  And it was also a day that I will not forget.  One of those truly memorable days while traveling that makes traveling so delightful and so addicting.   The day included a non-stop fast speed tour of Antigua’s main sites with my blogging friend and local Antigua resident Lucy, and well over 400 pictures each.  In fact, so much transpired during that one day in time that I need to break down my posts on Antigua into different topics.  The first and easiest one to pursue is my eventful morning in lovely, picturesque Antigua.

The well known landmark and arch, Arco de Santa Catalina was awaiting my arrival.

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The perfect B&B in Antigua

Finding the perfect Bed and Breakfast (B&B) in Antigua is no easy task. The picturesque UNESCO World Heritage City boasts tons of excellent, beautiful hotels and B&Bs, ranging from very affordable to quite pricey.  I knew that after a week’s stay with a large host family in Xela that I would want something nice, quiet and convenient to the center of town.  So I did what I always do while planning a trip:  Consulted my two favorite hotel sources, Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor.

Finding the right hotel or B&B is always something I do before leaving on a trip.  Other than that, I usually don’t do a lot of other planning before going somewhere new because I like to discover it for myself and figure out once I’m there how to organize my day.  Since hotel research is my only real trip planning I thoroughly enjoy it and use my time online perusing the various hotels and comparing each one by looking at the photos and reading the comments from past guests.  It is my time to get excited about venturing to a new place and picture myself there.

My home away from home while in Antigua.

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The Signs of Guatemala

I have always been fascinated by signs, especially when I travel.    Signs can be a work of art or a simplistic view into an unknown culture.  They can be fun, fanciful, beautiful or rather plain.  But they are always one thing:  A glimpse into the life of a place, whether it be a home, a building, a store or a country.

Here are some of my favorite signs that I found during my recent stay in Guatemala.  

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