Guatemala City

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In 1855, the Conservative Government introduced the first names of streets in Guatemala, based on proper names, for example 'Calle del Calvario, Calle de los Olvidos, Calle de la Merced', etc. The names indicated important things about the buildings located in each street or peculiar characteristics of the streets or sectors. This first system was simple and easy to remember; nevertheless, with the growth of the city, it was necessary to replace the system.

In 1877, the engineer Raúl Aguilar Batres proposed a new system of nomenclature. The proper names were substituted by a numerical system, still used today. The streets from north to south are called 'Avenida' and the ones conducing from west to east are called 'Calle'. They were enumerated and subdivided by the 8th Calle and the 6th Avenida with their respective north, south, west and east parts.

Each house is identified with the number of Avenida or Calle, where it is located and two more numbers, for example, 1 avenue 5-25. The number 5 corresponds to the Calle located on the corner of the Avenida; number 25 is the approximated distances of meters from Calle 5 to the house. That is, that the house is located in Avenida 1, 25 meters from Calle 5. The meters separating the houses from the Calles or Avenidas are approximated because this nomenclature set the odd numbers in the Calles' north side (5-25) and the even numbers in the Calles' south side (5-26). The Municipality of Guatemala establishes the buildings' or houses' nomenclature.

As for the nomenclature of the zones or districts, the central zone (historic center) was taken as a starting point. The zones then expand from this center in a form of a spiral, beginning in the north. This way, the growth of the city has no limits. The zones are divided by the natural geographic divisions or where the main roads are. For example, the Avenida Aguilar Batres separates zones 11 and 12 and the Avenida Reforma divides zones 9 and 10. Each of the zones has its own attraction, a secret to discover; for that reason I'm inviting you to know a little more about the different zones that have the most popular tourist attractions of the capital.

Zone 1:
Is the historic center of the city. In 1775, when 'Guatemala de la Asunción' was founded, the most important governmental and ecclesiastical buildings were constructed here, as well as the houses of the main families of the colonial epoch. The particular houses was characterized by the mudejar architectonic style, with a construction so uniform that the unique difference between houses was the size of the property. The public buildings were constructed with the neoclassic architectonic style; almost all of them had only one floor. Today, the core of zone 1, where the Plaza Major with the most important governmental and ecclesiastical buildings is located, is protected and conserved as Historical Heritage of the country. In the vicinity of this zone, there are lots of shopping centers and shops, such as shoes stores, boutiques, fabric stores and other businesses, where you can buy good merchandise at low prices.

Zone 2:
At first, this zone was founded as an 'indigenous town' that was transferred from Antigua Guatemala (the previous capital of the Kingdom). With the construction of the North Hippodrome, during the Liberal Government, lots of dwellings (belonging to some rich families) were constructed in Avenida del hipódromo. Some of these houses are still standing today, but they belong to private families. After an earthquake in 1971, the famous Relief Map of Guatemalan Republic was constructed. It is the unique map in the whole world that represents a whole country and it is a tourist attraction well worth a visit.

Zone 4:
In 1890, during president Barillas term in office, the Exhibition canton was formed and in its center the Guatemalan Pavilion of the Paris World Exhibition was established. That was the first design for the district, in the form of diagonals, of the routes and vias of zone 4. The Civic Center of the city is located in this zone. Inside this center are the Bank of Guatemala, the Guatemala Tourist Institution, the Supreme Court of Justice, The Municipality of Guatemala and other governmental buildings. These buildings were begun in 1954 and finalized in 1970. They are decorated with murals that are an impressive attraction. In the Cultural Center is the National Theater or Miguel Angel Asturias Theater, constructed in 1978, containing, the Main Theater, the Chamber Theater, the open-air theater, the Salon Dorado, the administration areas and parking facilities. The building is shaped like a jaguar and the buildings to its sides have been built to look like volcanoes, jaguars, etc. In this huge arts center, you can see magnificent theater and musical events.

Zones 9 y 10:
In 1892, the creation of a public garden was decreed and the new 'Boulevard 30 de Junio' was created, today known as the Avenida La Reforma (Reform Avenue). Traveling in this avenue is a very attractive trip because of its gardens and the numerous statues of important personalities and animals. This avenue separates zone 9 and 10, where the best hotels, restaurants, night-clubs and shopping centers are located. Zone 10 is known as the Zona Viva because there, there is a party almost every night.

Zones 13 y 14:
These zones are separated by the well-known Avenida de las Américas which was made known in the Diario de Centroamérica in 1951. At one end of the avenue, a small square was built to celebrate there the first Eucharistic Congress, which took place in the same year. As its name suggests, the avenue is dedicated to the American countries. In each corner, a metallic picture with decoration made of forged iron was installed. Each picture has the shield and the name of an American country. Along here you can see beautiful gardens and an infinity of small squares and statues lining the avenue.

Guatemala City continues to grow, as do its attractions which are conserved in the refuge of its historical, cultural and natural patrimony.

History of Guatemala City

In 1520, the conqueror Pedro de Alvarado, arrived on the American Continent and, from Mexico, was sent by Hernán Cortés to conquer Guatemalan. After much blood-shed during battles with the indigenous people, who lived in the country, finally he succeeded and conquered the land. In 1524, the first capital of Guatemala was founded, called Santiago de Guatemala. The name Guatemala derived from the 'nahuatl' language (language spoken by the indigenous from Mexico who came with the conqueror) which means 'Land of Trees', because of the imposing presence of its beautiful forests.

The first capital was only a usurpation of the city Iximché, founded by the indigenous from the ethnic group Cackchiquel, who lived in the region. After several revolts of the indigenous population, in 1527, the 'Valley of Almononga' became the capital. Near the 'Water Volcano' (a little city known today as 'Ciudad Vieja' Old City). In this second city, large buildings were built made of stone, brick and roofing tiles. But in 1541, a strong storm and earthquakes caused a tremendous avalanche of water and mud from the Water Volcano, this destroyed the city. After long discussions, a delegation inspected various valleys and, finally, the capital was moved to the neighbor 'Valley of Panchoy', near the Water volcano, Fire volcano and Acatenango volcano. The city's official function started in 1543 and in 1566, the city received the name of 'Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala' (Very Noble and Very Loyal City of Santiago of the Caballeros of Guatemala). In spite of the damage caused by constant earthquakes and volcano eruptions, the city has grow at such a rate that it is now considered the third city of the New World after Mexico and Lima. Santiago of Guatemala was the capital and economic center of the whole Kingdom of Guatemala (today the five Central American countries) where most members of royalty lived. However, in 1773, the destructive 'Santa Marta Earthquakes' ruined the destiny of this important city as a successful colonial capital. There were some people, directed by the Church, who were opposed to the city being moved, but after a long fight, in 1775, a royal letter was written to order the foundation of a new capital. Santiago of Guatemala, known today, as 'Antigua' is a National Monument and it was declared as 'Humanity's Heritage' by UNESCO in 1979. Today, Antigua is the second most visited tourist destination of Guatemala and it offers immense riches of history and culture.

Though the new Guatemalan capital, called Guatemala de la Asunción was founded at the end of the colony epoch (in 1775), it conserved the colonial design and the social separation of the Spanish City's model or pattern. The new urban area was planned to be more spacious and the new Great Plaza is almost double the size of the one built in Antigua, also with wider streets. The architecture of the public buildings was not dominated by the colonial baroque style, but by the neo-classic influence. The secular and ecclesiastical buildings were built around the Great Plaza: the town-hall was located in the north and the Palacio Real in the west side; the Catedral and the Palacio Arzobispal were built in the east. The construction of the public buildings was limited by lack of money and workers, that's why the constructors used some fragments of the Santiago buildings, also the new building's design was identical (with only one storey and arch-shaped porches in front of the building).

Four blocks from the Plaza Central other squares were built, one in each direction. The presence of religious temples was not so predominant as it was in Santiago (Antigua), but nevertheless the Church took possession of 60% of the city's central sector. The particular properties, called 'Solares', were distributed according to the size and location of the ones abandoned in Antigua. The Mudejar style characterized all the central houses, with a physiognomy so uniform that the unique difference between houses was only the size of the property. Commerce took place in the central market at the Great Plaza and in the stores located at the 'Portal del Comercio', south of the Great Plaza. The principal road axis was the Calle Real, between the Plaza Mayor and the Calvario (known today as 6 South Avenue, Zone 1).

After the Independence of the Guatemala (1821), there were not so many modifications in the colonial structure of the city, until the liberals were in power, in 1871.

The Conservative Government introduced, in 1855, the first streets' nomenclature, based on proper names, as for example Calle del Calvario. The names indicated important things about the buildings, characteristics of the epoch's streets or sectors. During this period, the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala was built, begun in 1786 and finished in 1849 (today in 9 Avenue 9-79, Zone 1). This building was declared a National Monument in 1970 and in 1985, the University of San Carlos began restoration works on the building in order to include the University's Museum, MUSAC, which is still open today. During the Conservatives' time in office, the majority of the ecclesiastical buildings were constructed and for the defense of the city, in times of the Central American civil wars, they constructed two forts. The San José fort was located in the southeast in and built in 1846. This building was demolished and replaced by a modern construction, the Teatro Nacional, today located on Calle 24 3-81, Zone 1. The other fort, named San Rafael de Matamoros, was constructed in 1858 in the northeast of the city (located in 11 Avenue 'B' 32- 46, Zone 5). This building still functions as a military fort today. Another building that represent this era is the one constructed for the Economic Society for friends of the Country, finished in 1855. This building was utilized by the Liberal Government for its Legislative Assembly and it is used today by the National Congress (located in 9 Avenue 9-44, Zone 1).

When the Liberals reached office, they made a lot of changes to the colonial life style of Guatemala. The national economy was orientated towards coffee cultivation, whose exportation still constitutes the principal producer of foreign currency for the country. The Liberals stimulated European immigration, wherefore it was necessary to begin the first phases of urbanization, creating conditions to introduce innovations of European urban life of the XIX century, such as the first banks. The urban area was amplified, creating new suburbs for the new inhabitants. The ecclesiastical wealth were expropriated and utilized as public buildings, which is why the buildings' colonial architecture was modified. In 1877, the street's nomenclature changed. The proper names were substituted by a numerical system, which is still in use today: enumerated Avenidas conduct north and south and the Calles go east to west, subdivided by 8 Calle and 6 Aavenida with their respective parts north, south, west and east. However, in 1890, the president named Barillas commanded the construction of a suburb called 'Exposition', with the Guatemalan Pavilion of the Paris World Exhibition in its center. With this suburb the first diagonal streets were created, today the routs and vias in Zone 4.

The liberal president José María Reyna Barrios (1892 ' 1898) was a typical representation of Eurocentric oligarchy. He decided to ornament the city, taking as an example the Paris Hausmann. Therefore, the urbanization of the southern part of the city began, where the prestigious zones 9 and 10 are located today. In 1892, he decreed to create a public garden in order to hold the proper Central American Exhibition. The new Boulevard 30 de Junio was created, known today as Avenida La Reforma, which is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. With the construction of the new boulevard, a group of the most prestigious families of the city moved out of the city centre causing a continuous process of moving of the city's important functions to the south. The architectural style of the private houses was also modified, replacing the Mudejar style with other imported styles.

Other construction that modified the settlement of the Guatemalan prestigious families was the North Hippodrome, as lots of houses were built on Avenida Hippodrome. With the posterior construction of the Minerva's temple and park, the central Avenida 6 was also extended north, and became Avenida Minerva or Hippodrome, today known as Avenida Simeón Cañas, zone 2. After the earthquakes in 1971, the Minerva Temple was demolished, but in its garden the famous Mapa en Relieve of the Guatemalan Republic was constructed. It is a unique map which shows the whole country in relief. You have to see it!

In the 1950's, lots of buildings were constructed in a modern style, such as the Centro Civico of the city, where the Public Financing Minister, the National Municipality, the National Tourist Institute (INGUAT) and other institutions are located. The time continues passing in Guatemala de la Asunción and with the city's expansion, new modern architectural styles have been introduced, as you can see in Avenida La Reforma. When you visit Guatemala, you will notice the historical, cultural and natural riches of the capital. Guatemala is a city of contrasts, a cradle of history in an authentic nation.


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