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1773 Santa Marta Earthquake


Antigua, earthquake, history

For 230 years beginning in 1543, La Antigua Guatemala was the Spanish Monarchy’s third seat of colonial government for what is now Central America. Repeated earthquakes destroyed significant parts of the city. Time and again, the citizenry rebuilt Antigua defying Mother Nature’s onslaught.

Historians estimate that by 1773, Antigua boasted a population of 60,000, rivaled only by Mexico City and Lima.

On July 29, 1773, a day dedicated to the celebration of Santa Marta, Antigua’s fate changed dramatically. A devastating tremor, referred to as the Santa Marta earthquake, shook. It destroyed nearly every building. A significant August aftershock completed the destruction. The city’s fate seemed sealed.

Tired of financing more than 200 years of repeated efforts to rebuild and maintain Antigua as the seat of government, the Spanish Crown ordered the city abandoned. The edict called for moving the capital city to the adjacent Valle de la Ermita, (Valley of the Hermitage), the present-day location for Guatemala City, the nation’s current capital. The Spanish government also ordered what little remained of Antigua completely demolished.

By 1776 the capital had indeed moved to the site of what is present-day Guatemala City. Ignoring the Spanish demolition order, many inhabitants remained in Antigua and began the arduous process of rescuing what they could of the city’s majesty.

Most religious sites were left in ruins. Nonetheless, a gradual process of reconstruction, restoration and preservation has restored many key buildings like the cathedral, Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, San Carlos University and a handful of the more than 30 original churches.

In 1979 UNESCO declared La Antigua a Cultural Heritage of Mankind. Its cobblestone streets, residences, carefully preserved ruins and Baroque buildings stand as testimony to Antiguans’ tenacity and perseverance. UNESCO’s recognition of Antigua guarantees we will all enjoy its beauty in the future. The city reminds one of challenges faced and surmounted by those who came to the Americas before us.


Further Information

Other helpful information: This is historical background on colonial Guatemala, esp. Antigua.

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By Peter Aras
I am a physician by education. I have lived in 5 countries in Latin America. I currently travel around Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador once or...
04 Oct 2009

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