Chichicastenango, also known as Santo Tomás Chichicastenango, is a town in the El Quiché department of Guatemala, known for its traditional K’iche’ Maya culture. The Spanish conquistadors gave the town its name from the Nahuatl name used by their soldiers from Tlaxcala: Tzitzicaztenanco, or City of Nettles. Its original name was Chaviar.
Chichicastenango is a large indigenous town, lying on the crests of mountaintops at an altitude of 1,965 m (6,447 ft). It is located about 140 km (87 miles) northwest of Guatemala City.
Chichicastenango is well known for its famous market days on Thursdays and Sundays where vendors sell handicrafts, food, flowers, pottery, wooden boxes, condiments, medicinal plants, candles, pom and copal (traditional incense), cal (lime stones for preparing tortillas), grindstones, pigs and chickens, machetes, and other tools. In the central part of the market plaza are small eateries (comedores).
Among the items sold are textiles, particularly the women’s blouses. The manufacture of masks, used by dancers in traditional dances, such as the Dance of the Conquest, have also made this city well-known for woodcarving.
Church of Santo Tomás
Next to the market is the 400-year old church of Santo Tomás. It is built atop a Pre-Columbian temple platform, and the steps originally leading to a temple of the pre-Hispanic Maya civilization remain venerated. K’iche’ Maya priests still use the church for their rituals, burning incense and candles. In special cases, they burn a chicken for the gods. Each of the 18 stairs that lead up to the church stands for one month of the Maya calendar year. Another key element of Chichicastenango is the Cofradia of Pascual Abaj, which is an ancient carved stone venerated nearby and the Maya priests perform several rituals there. Writing on the stone records the doings of a king named Tohil (Fate).
The Chichicastenango Regional Museum lies in its grounds.