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Few cities contain as many beautiful colonial buildings as Antigua, Guatemala. Walking along its cobbled streets is like stepping back into the days of the Spanish empire, many of the buildings being incredibly well-preserved. Antigua isn’t short of exciting attractions, but taking the time to stroll these streets and admire the architecture is one of the best ways to get a feel for this city. Here are seven of the most beautiful buildings in Antigua.
Antigua Cathedral was originally built in 1541, but was later destroyed by an earthquake. It was rebuilt in 1680, yet the devastating earthquake of 1773 (which destroyed many of Antigua’s oldest buildings) seriously damaged it yet again. The front of the cathedral is still standing and is a striking example of colonial architecture – but step behind it and you’ll find the haunting, roofless ruins of the main building.
La Merced is one of the prettiest churches in the city, boasting intricate stucco work that showcases the Moorish influence in Spain at that time. The stone cross at the atrium and the rooms behind the altar are the oldest structures, dating from the 1600s. The sanctuary and cloister were specifically designed to withstand earthquakes, and as a result are squatter than their predecessors, the building’s arches and columns being wider for this same reason. The facade was designed in typical baroque style, remaining untouched apart from a coat of yellow paint.
Casa Santo Domingo is a five-star hotel and museum, but located in the grounds of the Santa Domingo Monastery, so it’s fair to say it’s not your average hotel. The building itself used to be convent and sanctuary, and while the monastery was partially destroyed in an earthquake, Casa Santa Domingo beautifully showcases the baroque architecture from the colonial times.
San Francisco Church is the oldest active church in the city. While the bell and clock towers from the 17th and 19th centuries are in ruins, the church remains an excellent example of the Spanish-American baroque style. The exterior features twisted salomonic columns and 16 vaulted niches, 14 of which contain a saint or friar, including the Virgin Mary, Santa Clara and Santiago. Inside the church, keep an eye out for the altarpieces, which are lavishly decorated with paintings and sculptures.
The Arch of Santa Catalina is one of Antigua’s most recognizable landmarks, and it’s easy to see why. Perched above a busy cobbled street, the yellow arch with its neat, white trim perfectly frames Agua Volcano looming behind. Built in the 1690s, it originally connected the Santa Catalina convent to a school, allowing the nuns to pass through while avoiding the street. The iconic French clock on top was added later, in the 1830s.
The convent of Las Capuchinas was damaged by the earthquake of 1773 and was abandoned for two centuries, even though the damage wasn’t too extensive. It was restored in the 1940s and remains one of the finest examples of an 18th-century convent in Guatemala. The ruins are open to the public and include several pretty courtyards and gardens, the former bathing halls, and a round tower which contained the nuns’ cells.
From 1549, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales (Palace of the Captain General) was Central America’s colonial headquarters and the home of the Spanish viceroy. The original building was constructed in the late 1500s and contained a court of law, provincial offices, a post office, treasury, royal office, servants’ quarters and horse stables. Several earthquakes have damaged the building over the years, but it has been lovingly restored each time. The grand double-arched façade is all that’s left of the original complex.