About 15 minutes by chicken bus, southwest of Antigua Guatemala, sits San Miguel Duenas, worth a visit, if only for the two zany and mismatched gateways into this highland pueblo.
First gateway is a new and very yellow edifice with an ersatz old time architecture intimation. What the heck is this? Once past it you can gander at the Archangel Michael, who sits golden winged at the gateway’s pinnacle. The town’s namesake seems a bit small in proportion to the rest of the confection on which he poses, almost like a sprig of mint atop a very large lemon meringue pie.
I only mention these details because its unusual for a pueblo, or for that matter anywhere in this part of Guatemala, to put on such airs. This gateway suggests new prosperity for a town whose main commerce derives from hothouses where flowers, mainly, and other garden and decorative plants are grown. Still, the architectural style has nothing to do with the rest of the town, except maybe hinting at the Old World style church in its centre, which leans more to Spanish baroque than this gateway’s quasi rococo or whatever inspiration. Of the church more in a moment.
The second gateway is only about 100 meters from the lemon pie filling portico which first greets the visitor. Slightly older, but born of a jig saw puzzle imagination, this building is part park bench island and part amusement park escapee. It’s hard to believe this is sitting somewhere in Guatemala.
How to describe this structure? Okay, it looks like a very large Dutch girl cap propped up by four columns, shaped like pink sleeved gorilla arms with tidy manicured hands supporting the bonnet. At the top pirouettes a multi-hued Archangel Michael. The centre core is a snarl of concrete root-like texture and plants and fountain water dotting it at intervals. This could only have been designed by a committee.
Once you get over the gateways and move into the centre of town, you will understand why its main church is so beloved by photographers. It sits at an angle so that its prim whiteness and delicate proportions are shown to best advantage against the mighty volcano, Agua. It’s a charming silhouette and it alone is worth the visit to this pueblo.
This pueblo is also known for being the home of a snug artists colony, which accounts for some of the objects de art that inhabit part of the main square. For anyone who has traveled and experienced Guatemalan pueblos, you would come to expect the main square to be across from the central church, with a large cross facing the front of the church and then an assortment of benches. The elaborateness of this formula varies from place to place, but that’s the basic model.
The San Miguel Duenas Guatemala park version is different in that it has taken an odd curatorial turn. Here you find artists’ renderings on a variety of themes through statues, all in the same brutalism concrete. It’s just that the brutalist style evokes a nihilist tone that is at odds with the with the church just opposite. Themes are mysterious as well. For example, is the concrete lady wearing an Olympic size sun hat or is this a halo that is too heavy for her to bear? Sometimes greatness is thrust upon us, it’s true.
All in all, a visit to San Miguel Duenas Guatemala is a treat because it follows all the classic patterns of a Guatemalan pueblo, but with a few odd twists at its gateways and in its centre core.