Antigua, Guatemala (#makeheritagefun)
Antigua is the perfect example of a World Heritage site; an incredible historic landscape, an area of outstanding natural beauty and a vibrant culture.
This former capital of Guatemala (founded 1543) is an impressive testament of colonial power- where 18th century Baroque style buildings are separated only by beautiful parks, plazas and buzzing markets. The historic buildings are exceptional examples of Spanish colonial architecture, now standing as recently preserved monuments or remarkable ruins (either way the impact is still the same). The Mayan influence, although subtle, has also made its mark within the Spanish architecture and city planning, for example, the amazing colourful houses.
However, what actually is it that makes a picturesque town Guatemala’s must see site with numerous buzzing reviews? I decided to find out on GoUnesco’s 2016 #makeheritagefun day.
Before, the day I tried to determine what did make heritage fun and in what different way heritage could be made fun. I decided it was taking part in an enjoyable ‘experience’ which connects you to a culture or period in history. Therefore, my first ‘experience’ was to be exploring the city-incredible! On every cobbled street corner there was just another impressive ruin or renovated colonial building to explore. I counted 31 grand ecclesiastical or civic ruins just in the centre of Antigua.
During my wonderings I discovered how the Cathedral, Le Merced Church and El Arco de Santa Catalina were examples of the beautiful renovation work. I also found Capucinas nunnery was the most interesting ruin to explore. Construction began in 1731 and it has some of the most unique architecture for a nunnery that I have ever seen. For example, the nun’s cells were built in a circle and there was room purposely built so it would have the most amazing echo (where whatever noise you made it sounded the same wherever you were within the room). The ruins really gave an accurate insight into the nun’s pious but difficult life. The Compana de Jesus, Santa Domingo and the San Fransico El Grande ruins were also spectacular.
What also adds to the interest of the city, and its buildings, is how they seem ‘frozen in time’. This is due to constant stream of natural disasters hitting the city (earthquakes, eruptions and floods) forcing the capital to be relocated to the sturdier site of Guatemala City. The last straw was another building destroying earthquake in 1773. As a result, Antigua’s population dropped dramatically and the city was left relatively unchanged until the 20th century.
As I walked around I realized how ‘fun’ heritage can be when you experience its social aspects. The colorful markets were the perfect place to discover the vibrant Mayan Culture as you pass examples of local art, music, clothes, crafts and food. The Jade Museum also provided very interesting information on the local culture before the Spaniards arrived in the 16th Century. It is also fun to find out what Mayan animal you are- Coyote in my case (which I was quite pleased with). I would also have to recommend the following local dishes; chiles rellenos, roscos con leche and mole de platanos. It also goes without saying the homemade coffee and chocolate is delicious! I had planned a trip to a coffee plantain and chocolate factory for my next days in Antigua and they were defiantly another way to ‘make heritage fun’.
I also realized that a great way to learn about heritage is to take part in a related activity. Therefore, my second ‘make heritage fun’ experience had to be a Spanish Salsa class. I must admit I was defiantly not a natural but it was undoubtedly a highlight of my day. To hear all the different influences in the music and dance was very interesting and the local passion for music and dance is indisputable, it is everywhere! I found the contrast and merging of the two cultures very interesting.
Therefore, it is clear heritage is made fun in Antigua through the variety of interactive activities and experiences available to you. However, it really is the vibrant culture of this historic town that makes this historic site special. I already can not wait to come back!