Antigua Feature

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Something Old, Something New

Antigua's colonial magnificence disappeared in one day in 1773 following a massive earthquake. With the move of the capital to nearby Guatemala City, there was no need (and no money) to restore Antigua's treasures. Nearly two centuries of stagnation followed.

Things changed in the 1960s with a newfound interest among residents in preserving and restoring that former glory. The Guatemalan government had declared Antigua a national monument in 1944, a title largely ceremonial, but the Protective Law for the City of La Antigua Guatemala, enacted by the national government in 1969, would change the fortunes of the city forever.

Key to those newfound fortunes was the formation of an active Consejo Nacional para la Protección de La Antigua Guatemala (National Council for the Protection of Antigua Guatemala; www.cnpag.org, whose efforts have focused on the rescue and restoration of some 50 monuments. That work comes at a price—money is scarce in Guatemala—but the governments of Spain, Japan, and Taiwan have chipped in to fund several projects. Guatemalan corporate sponsors—including cement manufacturer Cementos Progreso, Pepsi, chicken restaurant chain Pollo Campero, and national telephone company Telgua—have made generous donations, as well.

In a more general sense, beyond specific projects, the council actively spearheaded the elimination of street advertising from businesses. Walk down any Antigua street and you'll notice that signs are conspicuously and pleasantly discreet. Next on the council's wish list—it's a long shot to be sure—is the elimination of vehicular traffic from select downtown streets. You can get a taste of this on weekends, when Avenida 5 Norte, the street passing under the Santa Catalina arch, is closed to traffic.

An influx of visitors from around the world has nevertheless been an end result, but the restoration projects have always been undertaken as a matter of civic pride and not to create a vast outdoor museum.

Current and recent council projects include:

Convento de las Capuchinas: construction of colonial-art museum.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de La Merced: reinforcement of arcades in cloister and restoration of Jesús Nazareno figure.

Iglesia de San Cristóbal El Bajo: structural reinforcement of damage from 1976 earthquake and landscaping of plaza.

Iglesia de San Juan El Obispo: restoration of church bell.

Iglesia de Santa Inés: restoration of facade, remodeling of atrium, and exterior illumination.

Palacio de los Capitanes Generales: reinforcement of roof tiles, walls, and rotted wood.

Rescate del Color Antigüeño ("rescue of Antigua color"): ongoing campaign to repaint buildings in their original colors; most activity on 1 Avenida Norte, 2 Avenida Sur, 7 Avenida Norte, and 3 Calle Oriente.

San José Catedral: restoration of figures on cathedral facade damaged in 1976 earthquake.

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