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Many visitors who come to Antigua for the first time feel like they were entering a different world. Cobblestone streets, colonial-style houses with no more than two stories, monuments from days gone by, no neon signs, not even traffic lights.
History is present everywhere and visitors get an unforgettable impression of what life must have been like when Antigua was the capital of Central America more than two centuries ago.
Founded in 1543, Antigua quickly became one of the most important Spanish settlement on the American continent, surpassed only by Mexico City and Lima, Peru. Magnificent palaces, churches, monasteries and private homes gave testimony to Antigua's role as the political, economic and religious center of Central America.
Antigua's glory came to an abrupt end when the city was struck by a disastrous earthquake on July 29, 1773. So many buildings were destroyed or severely damaged that the colonial government — with permission from the Spanish Crown — decided to move the capital to the nearby Ermita Valley, where present-day Guatemala City was founded in 1776 and became the new capital.
Subsequently, Antigua was mostly but not completely abandoned. Those who stayed behind, however, lacked the resources to rebuild and simply occupied whatever houses or parts thereof where still habitable. Time seemed to stand still until Antigua was rediscovered in the early 20th century.
Some buildings still lie in ruins, many others have been painstakingly restored according to original construction plans, giving Antigua a unique historic ambience that make the town one of the most attractive and charming in Latin America.
Antigua was declared a National Monument by the Guatemalan government in 1944. In the 1960's, the Council for the Protection of Antigua Guatemala was established, which has wide powers to restrict construction and other activities in town in order to protect Antigua's unique colonial heritage. Finally, in 1979, UNESCO recognized Antigua as a World Heritage Site.
Due to its location in the Central Highlands of Guatemala, only about 40 km (25 miles) from Guatemala City, Antigua also makes for an ideal base to explore the rest of the country. Regular bus service to all places of interest make traveling to and from Antigua easy and convenient.
Antigua is more than just another place in Latin America where you can study Spanish! Antigua is a charming and tranquil colonial town full of friendly and helpful people, where you can relax from the stress and obligations of your professional life, escape from the cold or heat of less temperate climes, and recharge your batteries for another year, or another few months, in your home town.