We continued our tour of Antigua, Guatemala’s fascinating city with its historic core (For Part 1, click HERE) by walking to the Santo Domingo Monastery.
This is now surrounded by the hotel convention center complex known as Casa Santo Domingo. Purchased from the state in 1989, it is a more-than-5-star hotel, with the original architecture and layout of the convent and monastery maintained, although obviously modernized to be able to accommodate conventions, weddings and large meetings! One of the hotel’s restaurants is probably one of the finest in Guatemala.
Santo Domingo was the largest in the city until it was destroyed by the 1773 earthquake. The ruins show a large church, now covered by expensive permanent tarpaulins, that give the illusion of a roof. There are fountains, cloisters and various building housing many of the artifacts found during renovation and building. A tunnel was dug below adjacent housing to get to a parking lot; all the artifacts uncovered in the process are now housed in museum alcoves and windows throughout the building.
I particularly enjoyed the polychrome wood carvings; the quality is amazing and very well preserved. There is also a candle shop; as the whole complex is illuminated at night by burning candles at night, that was a necessity!
We continued our walk west, and arrived at the Church and School of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). This cloister and church, started in 1561, housed Jesuits until about 1770. It became the place to be educated, for the elite and glitterati of colonial Antigua.
After the Jesuits were expelled in the 1770s, the buildings housed a city market, with prices still painted on the walls. The main structure was nearly completed destroyed by earthquakes in 1917 and 1976. Due to local restoration efforts partially applied to the front, you can get a feel for how it appeared during that time.
Ironically, the building ironically is now owned by the Spanish government, which is a very odd way of preserving Guatemalan culture and heritage.
Moving back east, we took the road north to the Arch of the Convent. This is probably one of the most photographed and “quintessentially” Antiguan sites. The La Merced Church is located behind it, while the volcano is seen way behind it. Thus, walking up this street you are able to see the expanse of the city.
The convent was built on both sides of the road, but for cloistered nuns who were never to be seen in public, they had to build a way for them to get from one side to the other. Thus, an arch was created, without windows, that allowed them to move freely between the buildings.
The La Merced church was built between 1749 and 1767, in a more baroque Guatemalan style, with two bell towers. Ironically, the Catholics basically enslaved the local population with forced labor to build the structure. They showed their resistance by refusing to create carvings as instructed—native corn cobs replaced the requested grapes. Thus, the Indian rebels were able to still show their influence in the creation of the church for the people who had “conquered” them.
Our final stop was at a large coffee plantation, called Philadelphia, on the outskirts of the city. It’s one of the largest coffee plantations in the area. Coffee from this area, grown at high altitude, has a unique richness. The growers here have a two tier system, with a canopy of pepper trees growing above the coffee bushes, giving them shade—another premium coffee factor.
As we were standing outside looking at the patios of drying beans, we looked up to see that VolcÁn de Fuego was erupting before our very eyes. Lava, magma and ash was spewing up into the air, and then continuing down the mountain side in lava flows. What made this particular eruption, the largest in 25 years, so impressive was that there were no clouds, and a wind that blew the ash and smoke away. This meant that you could actually see the volcanic eruption without any problem. What an amazing treat to have as our final experience in Antigua!