For Part I of my visit to Guatemala City’s historic downtown, click here.
Besides Plaza Mayor’s imposing green building, known as The Big Guacamole, there is another structure that catches everyone’s attention.
Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral), has been a fixture at the plaza for a long time, having been built between 1782 and 1815. Well, the main building at least, since the towers flanking each side were finished in 1867.
Here, I’m supposed to tell you that the Cathedral was built in a Neoclassical style. What that means is that it’s not as fancy and ornate as earlier buildings (Baroque), but a simpler, more classical style. One of the reasons why this cathedral doesn’t rate as highly in the “looks” department as other ones.
The cathedral was terribly damaged in 1917, when the city was hit by 127 (not a typo) tremors in the span of less than 24 hours. The cathedral was reconstructed and reinforced in the following years. Good thing too, as another huge earthquake struck the city in 1976, which damaged it badly. It would’ve been reduced to rubble if it hadn’t been reinforced.
There are 12 pillars in front of the church (8 visible below), which have inscribed on them the names of hundreds of people that had “disappeared” or had been murdered during Guatemala’s recent and bloody civil war.
The Pope has visited the cathedral twice.
The interior is somewhat basic, but it goes with the style in which it was built.
The picture below almost got me in trouble with one elderly church lady. Turns out you can take pictures of anything you want in the church, but not this particular sanctuary.
“Why?”, I asked the lady.
“Because Jesus is there,” she answered.
I looked again… but didn’t understand which “Jesus” she was walking about. If anything, there was a pretty big cross with Jesus’ image, located on the main altar. Nobody had a problem when I took a picture of that. Maybe she meant the Archbishop or another religious figure?
“God… Jesus. And He doesn’t like pictures,” she answered back. I promise you this is what she said.
A five minute theological “discussion” ensued, in which she pretty condescendingly explained to me that Jesus’ body was there, within the Eucharist trays that were placed in front of the sanctuary. There was no way I was going to:
a) Argue with an elderly church lady, and b) in her place of worship.
So I politely thanked her, stopped taking pictures, and moved on to the other attraction outside, Sexta Avenida (Sixth Avenue).
Sexta Avenida Guatemala
As my family and I made our way to Sexta Avenida, a commercial street closed-off to vehicular traffic, I encountered. some sort of game going on, involving rods and who could grab on to them the longest. No way I’m making jokes about that… you’re on your own there.
These gatherings are opportunities for pickpockets to work their craft, so I quickly moved on.
Sexta Avenida is one of the oldest and arguably the most important street, historically, in Guatemala. It used to be known by the name of Calle Real (Royal Street). It was the first street to get candle-lights in its corners, switched later to petroleum, gaslights came later, and finally electric lights.
In 1877, all streets were switched over to numeric designations, which is how SixthAvenue came to be known by its current name. In fact, the street became such a hub for activity and commerce, that strolling around Sexta became a verb, “sextear” and “sexteando.” Which awkwardly can be translated as “sexting“.
Trees and interesting sculptures dot the landscape along the avenue.
Hotel Pan American, below, was once one of the most important in Guatemala, back when it was known by the name Hotel Astoria (no relation to the hotel in New York). This is where visiting dignitaries stayed and where special functions were held. It had the advantage of being very close to the National Palace and offered great view of of Plaza Mayor.
It still operates to this day. A cafe occupies the first floor.
Another landmark that stands out is Cine Lux, a movie theater built in the 1930s. One of the few that survived the 1976 earthquake.
It was remodeled last year and is now a very happening cultural center.
Restoration is still ongoing and not all buildings have recaptured their former glory.
You can spot all kinds of performers on Sexta. Some days you might find a ninja (or is it a mummy???)
You might run into Captain Jack Sparrow too.
Church of San Francisco is also on Sexta Avenida. Closed to the public that day, unfortunately.
Right next to the church is the National Police Palace, an interesting building with Moorish touches. San Francisco Church can be seen in the background.
And so concludes a VERY brief tour of historic Sexta Avenida. We barely walked half of it and didn’t even get the chance to visit some interesting museums and other sights around the area.
Oh yeah… we’ll be back.
Have you visited Sexta Avenida? What did I miss?
Keep tuned in and check back Mondays for business building info, Wednesdays for content related to expat life, and Fridays for tons of travel pictures as I do an on-the ground report spotlighting a travel destination.
Also, check out my Pinterest page about Antigua Guatemala, one of the prettiest colonial cities in the world and latest digital nomad destination I’m trying out.