From 1543 to 1773, Antigua was the capital city of the Kingdom of Guatemala, and its wealth, size, splendour and sophistication was rivalled only by Mexico City and Lima. In 1773, it contained some 32 churches, 18 convents and monasteries, 10 chapels, a university and seven colleges, exquisite fountains set in carefully tended parks and gardens, magnificent private mansions and some of the most beautiful buildings constructed in the New World.
In 1773 the city was destroyed by an earthquake and the capital was moved to Guatemala City where it has remained to this day. Antigua has changed little since that time. Few buildings are more than one storey high and the centre of the town is full of colonial style homes with metal grilles; ornate, metal-studded doorways; whitewashed walls and tile roofs. It remains the cultural capital of Guatemala and its setting is even more remarkable, sitting beneath the three volcanic peaks of Agua, Fuego and Acatenango.
Antigua is also renowned for its elaborate Easter celebrations combining indigenous and Catholic traditions. Semana Santa (Holy Week), with its grand processions, floats with colourful handmade decorations and intricately designed alfombras (carpets) made from dyed sawdust, flowers and pine needles, attracts thousands of local revellers and visitors alike.