Earthquakes are a fairly frequent occurrence in Guatemala, and they have played an important part in the country’s history. This is most evident in the picturesque city of Antigua where spectacular 200-year-old Colonial Ruins can be seen on nearly every corner.
Lying on top of a major fault zone between the Caribbean and North American tectonic plates, Guatemala is no stranger to the destructive forces of earthquakes. The most recent major quake (a 7.5 magnitude) occurred in 1976 and caused 23,000 fatalities and widespread damage.
It is a 1773 earthquake, however, that is Guatemala’s most famous – it changed the country’s history and it is the reason that present-day Antigua is now “decorated” with beautiful colonial ruins throughout its cobble-stoned streets.
The 1773 earthquake (also a 7.5 magnitude) destroyed much of Antigua and killed more than 600 people immediately (another 600 died later from disease) and it produced aftershocks that lasted more than four months! This quake – and its destructive aftermath – is also the reason Spanish authorities decided to abandon Antigua as its Central American Capital and move it to present-day Guatemala City.
The beautiful ruins left by the 1773 quake help add a unique charm to the city of Antigua, and they are most certainly part of the reason that Antigua was recognized in 1979 by UNESCO as a Cultural Heritage of Mankind site.
Today tourist from around the world visit Antigua to marvel at its dramatic ruins. Add to this Antigua’s colorful squares, white-washed churches, museums, world-class restaurants, art galleries and traditional markets and you begin to understand why Antigua, Guatemala is the most visited city in Central America!