The National Palace of Antigua, or Palacio Nacional de Antigua, is located in the Central Square of Antigua, Guatemala. Antigua is a city in the central highlands of Guatemala famous for its well-preserved Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture as well as a number of ruins of colonial churches. It served as the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also known as Captain General Palace, or Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, currently serves as the headquarters of the Guatemala Institute of Tourism, the Antigua Tourism Association, National Police and the Sacatepquez Department government.
Antigua Guatemala means “Old Guatemala” and was the third capital of Guatemala. The first capital of was founded on the site of a Kakchikel-Maya city, now called Iximche, on Monday, July 25, 1524 — the day of Saint James — and therefore named Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Goathemalan (City of Saint James of the Knights of Guatemala). St. James became the patron saint of the city.
After several Kaqchikel uprisings, the capital was moved to a more suitable site in the Valley of Almolonga (place of water) on November 22, 1527, and kept its original name. This new city was located on the site of present-day San Miguel Escobar, which is a neighborhood in the municipality of Ciudad Vieja. This city was destroyed on September 11, 1541, by a devastating lahar from the Volcán de Agua. As a result, the colonial authorities decided to move the capital once more, this time five miles away to the Panchoy Valley. So, on March 10, 1543, the Spanish conquistadors founded present-day Antigua, and again, it was named Santiago de los Caballeros. For more than 200 years, it served as the seat of the military governor of the Spanish colony of Guatemala, a large region that included almost all of present-day Central America and the southernmost State of Mexico: Chiapas.
The city was laid out in a square pattern, with streets running north to south and from east to west, with a central square. Both church and government buildings were designated important places around the central plaza. Between 1549 and 1563, property southeast of the square was sold to the crown and occupied by the first president of the Real Audiencia de los Confines: the lawyer Alonso Lopez Cerrato, who also served as governor and captain general. The original building was small and paneled with portal, tile roof, and adobe walls. The city is surrounded by three enormous volcanoes and mountains, plains and hills. This territory was called “Valley of Guatemala” and had 73 villages, two towns and the city of Santiago de los Caballeros
The first two-story building was constructed in 1558 and is in the southeast corner of the Central Plaza. It was made with a wooden floor and arches that support the entire structure. The General Captaincy of Guatemala was governed from this building. It enclosed all of the government, administrative and military offices for the General Captaincy. Construction of the General Captain’s residence and the Real Audiencia began in 1558. The building also housed the Royal Tax office, jail, Army headquarters, horse facilities and warehouses. The full palace was completed by 1678,
An earthquake struck Guatemala on September 29, 1717, with an estimated moment magnitude of 7.4, and a Mercalli intensity of approximately IX (Violent). The earthquake essentially destroyed much of the architecture of Antigua Guatemala. Over 3,000 buildings were ruined including many temples and churches. The San Miguel earthquake severely impacted the city of Santiago de los Caballeros; the Royal Palace suffered some damage in rooms and walls. This earthquake made the authorities think about moving the city to a new location less vulnerable to earthquakes, but the city inhabitants strongly opposed this measure and they even went as far as to invade the Palace to make their point. The city did not move, but a considerable number of troops were needed to restore calm. Diego de Porres, city master building fixed the Palace damage and finished by 1720; although he made some more improvements that lasted until 1736.
The San Casimiro earthquakes that stroke the city of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala in 1751 damaged the palace again. Its façade and levels were destroyed, but the remaining basis permitted its rebuilt, in 1755, finishing it in 1764. Nature stroke again when an earthquake in 1773 shook the city. It was intended to transfer the building’s columns when the city moved into the Ermita Valley, but it wasn’t possible because they were too heavy.
On July 29, 1773, the feast day of Saint Martha of Bethania, a very powerful earthquake hit the city at around 3:00 p.m. One hour later, an even more devastating tremor that lasted for about a minute hit the city again, in the middle of a strong thunderstorm, destroying churches, government office buildings and private homes. It also broke water and food supply chains, as the inhabitants fled to the mountains.
On August 2 and 4, Captain General Martín de Mayorga presided over General Meetings with local authorities, including archbishop Pedro Cortés y Larraz, criollo City Hall members, and regular clergy representatives. They decided to inform King Carlos III and the Indian Council about the destruction and the eventual move of the city to La Ermita Valley, which was not as close to the volcanoes, which were considered the culprit for the destruction of the city at the time.
On December 13, 1773, two strong earthquakes hit the area once again, The following year, the Indian Council approved the move to the La Ermita valley. Matías de Gálvez, was in charge of coordinating the move between 1779 and 1783.
On January 16, 1775, master builder Bernardo Ramirez started pulling out all reusable construction material from the destroyed buildings to move it to the new capital city, After this, the Palace was left without doors, windows, balconies, ornaments, etc.
The city remained relatively abandoned during the 19th century, and as such, the Guatemala archbishop sold what was left of monasteries and churches to regular citizens. Some families went back to Antigua to settle there once again, so eventually there had to be some sort of authority that was established in the city and used some of the old buildings to work. Towards the end of the 19th century the old Palace façade was rebuilt, using the stone columns that had been stored for almost a hundred year in makeshift warehouses in front of the Palace. After this work, the less damaged sections such as the jail and government offices were reopened.
On February 4, 1976, Guatemala was struck again by a powerful earthquake of 7.5 in the Richter scale, which destroyed most of country infrastructure and severely damaged the Palace. Its eastern façade had to be demolished. The Palace, along with the rest of Antigua Guatemala was declared a monument of humanity by UNESCO in 1979.
Today, Central Park (Parque Central) is the heart of the city with the reconstructed fountain there acting as a popular gathering spot. To the north of Central Park is the Arco de Santa Catalina, one of the most recognizable architectural landmarks of Antigua.
La Antigua is noted for its very elaborate religious celebrations during Lent (Cuaresma), leading up to Holy Week (Semana Santa) and Easter (Pascua). Each Sunday during Lent, one of the local parishes sponsors a procession through the streets of Antigua. Elaborate and beautiful artistic carpets, predominantly made of dyed sawdust, flowers, pine needles, and even fruits and vegetables, adorn the processions’ paths.
Due to its popularity among tourists and its very well-developed tourism infrastructure, Antigua Guatemala is often used as a central location from which to visit other tourist areas in Guatemala and Central America. Cruise ships that dock at Guatemalan ports offer trips to Antigua from both the Pacific and Atlantic. Antigua also holds a sizeable retirement community of expatriates from the United States and Europe.
The National Palace of Antigua was first portrayed on a Guatemalan stamp in 1922 (Scott #203), utilizing the same design as seen on Scott #211, featured today). The 25-centavo stamp was printed by Waterlow & Sons, Ltd. in 1922 while the later stamp, released in August 1924, was printed by Perkins Bacon & Company Ltd. Both were perforated 14 and printed in brown ink. Although there are some minor differences between the two stamps, the main method for telling them apart is that the later re-engraved copies feature the imprint PERKINS BACON & CO LD LONDRES along the lower margin while the previous do not. Further uses of the design were stamps printed by Waterlow & Sons Ltd. and issued in July-August 1926 (Scott #221) with the added date of 1926, perforated 12½, and a stamp printed by Thomas de la Rue Ltd. and released in January 1929 re-denominated 1 centavo printed in dark brown and perforated 14.