Guatemala's first street nomenclature was devised in 1855 when the Conservative Government decreed the use of proper names, such as Calle del Calvario, Calle de los Olvidos, or Calle de la Merced. The system was descriptive and easy to remember, but rapid growth of the city led to its replacement by a numbering method first proposed by the engineer Raúl Aguilar Batres in 1877. Despite its Byzantine complexity, this system is still used today. Streets from north to south are called "Avenida" and those from east to west are called "Calle". Each address has three numbers—"1 Avenida 5-25" for example—to indicate the street number and the approximate distance, in meters, from the nearest cross street. The distance in meters (in this case "25"), is odd for houses on the north side of a street (or avenue) and even for those on the south. Each address is determined by the Municipality of Guatemala.
The zones of the city are also numbered. Using the center of the city as a starting point, numbers increase starting from the north then spiraling outwards, using main roads or geographic divisions as boundaries between each zone. The Avenida Aguilar Batres, for example, separates zones 11 and 12 and the Avenida Reforma divides zones 9 and 10. The logic behind this system is that the city can continue expanding without running out of zone names. Each zone has its own attractions and characteristics, described below.
This 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 leading families of the era. Private houses were characterized by the mudejar architectural style, with a construction so uniform that the only thing to differentiate between each was the size of the property. Public buildings were constructed in a Neo-Classical style and few of them had more than one floor. Today, the heart of Zone 1, where the
This zone was founded as a town for indigenous people transferred from Antigua, Guatemala, the former capital of the kingdom. With the construction of the North Hippodrome, during the Liberal Government, many wealthy families built residences on the Avenida del Hipódromo. Some of these houses are still standing today, and belong to private families. The famous
In 1890, during President Barillas' term in office, the canton of Exposición was formed, with the Guatemalan Pavilion of the Paris World Fair in its center. The
Zones 9 & 10
In 1892, the public garden Boulevard 30 de Junio was created. Today it is known as the
Zones 13 & 14
These zones are separated by the
Our tour begins a hundred meters from the Plaza Mayor de la Constitución, at the Mercado Central in the Plaza del Sagrario. Located behind the cathedral, the three-story market is built over what used to be the city cemetery. Here, there are many stalls selling fruit, vegetables, flowers, weavings and snacks. Not far away, on the corner of Avenida 9 and Calle 10, is the Museo de Historia, which houses an exhibition depicting the city's history and the people who have played a part in it. It has a wealth of historical photographs, as well as furniture and valuable political documents. This is the place to go if you want to find out about the city's past since Independence in 1821. The exhibitions also cover the economy, society, and the arts. A few blocks from the History Museum is La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, on the corner of Avenida 11 and Calle 5. It houses a fine collection of colonial paintings, as well as gilded altarpieces which were brought from Antigua to the new place of worship.
Walking northwards from the center along Avenida 6, at the corner of Calle 19 in Zone 4 you will come to the Centro Cultural Miguel Angel Asturias, home to the opera, a chamber theater and an open-air theater built around three squares. Work began on the theatre in 1961 and finished in 1978. Shaped like a Mayan pyramid, it stands out from the rest of the Civic Centre on Buena Vista Hill and is considered one of the greatest in the world. You can visit at any time of day.Two kilometers northeast of the center is the Cerro del Carmen, where the first church in the valley was built, dedicated to La Virgen del Carmen. This provides a little oasis of green in the midst of the growing city. From its patio you have a good view of the city center.
La Plaza Mayor
The Plaza Mayor is a good starting point for a walk through the city. To the east is the Neo-Classical Metropolitan Cathedral, where you can contemplate a collection of religious paintings by masters such as Zurbarán, from the Spanish dark period, and pictures from Guatemala's colonial days such as “Saint Sebastian” and the “Virgen del Socorro”, brought by the Spanish conquistadors. To the north of the Plaza is the Portal del Comercio (Gate of Commerce), also in Neo-Classical style, which is home to a variety of businesses and street vendors' stalls. Here you can buy arts and crafts from all over the country. If you want an embroidered huipil, pottery, or craftsmanship in leather, wood, silver, or tin, this is the place to go. To the west of the Plaza is the Parque Centenario (Centenary Park), where shoe-shiners traditionally gather around the benches at the entrance to Avenida 6, to gossip about politics, economics and the news of the day.
You do not have to leave the capital to explore the treasures of Mayan culture. Sitio Arqueológico Kaminal Juyú gives you the opportunity to see from close up how archaeological excavations are carried out. Amongst the ten mounds of earth in the middle of a field, you will find two sets of excavations by teams from the University of Pennsylvania. Named the "Hill of the Dead" by Antonio Villacorta in 1940 due to the large number of burial remains which have been found in it, Laminal Juyú is the site of a Mayan city that dates back to the Pre-Classical period. A visit to the best museum of Pre-Hispanic art in Central America, the Museo Popol Vuh will prepare you for the Route of the Mayas. Forty centuries of Mayan life are summed up in the nine galleries: an introductory room, a map of Central America, a sculpture gallery, a gallery of jade objects, a room dedicated to contemporary ethnology, and rooms containing artifacts from the three major periods of the Mayan civilization, the Pre-Classical, Classical and the Post-Classical. Finally, the “Patio of Stars” is especially impressive. As well, the Pre-Hispanic Art department of the Popol Vuh has a collection of funeral urns from El Quiché and a collection of tubular incense burners rescued from the bottom of Lake Atitlán.
Mapa en Relieve
Five minutes' walk to the north of the Plaza Mayor de la Constitución, on the site of the old North Hippodrome, is the Mapa en Relieve (relief map). Made between 1904 and 1905 by the engineer Francisco Vela Irrisario, this is a unique and amazingly detailed three-dimensional map of the country. From the visitors' observation box you can see the hydraulic system used to simulate the flow of the country's rivers and lakes. The 108,889-square kilometers that make up the Republic of Guatemala are accurately condensed into only 1,800 square meters. To see all the rivers, volcanoes, mountains, valleys, and the coast laid out before you like this is really a stunning sight. To the south along Avenida Reforma you come to the Jardín Botánico, which is kept by the Conservation Study Center of the University of San Carlos de Guatemala. A huge variety of plants and trees are to be found in this small space. Avenida La Reforma, with its broad, tree-lined meridian, is one of the main arteries of the southern part of the city, providing access to new shopping areas such as La Pradera, Gran Centro Los Próceres, and the Zona Viva, where you will find the most exclusive clothes shops and the best restaurants, surrounded by hotels.
The Archaeology Museum houses a valuable display of Mayan relics, including a large collection of Pre-Columbian jade. There are displays on the country's indigenous tribes, showing their different styles of weaving. Opposite, and in a similar architectural style, stands the Museo de Arte Moderno, a gallery which houses a good selection of the best in contemporary Guatemalan art, particularly painting and sculpture. In an innovative building next door is the Museo de Historia Natural, with exhibitions on flora, fauna, mineralogy, and paleontology, including a collection of dissected animal specimens from various regions of Guatemala. There is also an ecological library for children, the only one of its kind in the country.
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Guatemala offers visitors a great variety of accommodation choices. Price, service, architecture and location all vary, but you can be sure to find the ideal hotel to satisfy your needs and budget. The large hotels have an extensive variety of services, including restaurants, bars, travel agencies, rental car agencies, commercial stores, business centers, convention centers, gymnasiums, pools and spas. Here is a tour of Guatemala City hotels, zone by zone. Zone 1
The center of the city offers lodgings for all tastes and budgets. Cheaper hotels offer a comfortable room with a private bathroom, hot water and parking. There are also more elegant hotels in this zone, such as the Hotel Ritz Continental, which has deluxe air-conditioned suites, cable television, business centers, restaurants, a lobby bar and night club, and the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, with, among other things, in-room fireplaces. Other large hotels in the city's center are the Hotel Pan American, a colonial-style building in the historic center of the city which provides a great service for guests, the well-appointed Hotel Royal Palace and the Hotel Fortuna Royal.
Zones 9 & 10
Many international hotel chains can be found in these zones, such as the well-known Hotel Westin Camino Real and the Hotel Marriott. These zones are also a good place to look for suite hotels like Suites Reforma Apart Hotel. The Hotel Casa Serena and the Hotel Viva Clarion are both here. Zone 10, or the Zona Viva is the area of the city with the most hotels by far. Some more hotels found in Zone 10 are the Hotel Westin Camino Real, the Hotel Stofella and the Hotel Posada de los Próceres
Zone 11 is a commercial district of the city, and also where you will find one of the largest and most luxurious hotels, the Grand Tikal Futura Hotel. As well as all the services you would expect of a hotel with this reputation; it also boasts a large shopping center with a variety of stores such as those selling shoes, jewelry, and beauty salons. If you prefer a comfortable stay near the international airport, try the Hotel Meliá Guatemala. It offers the best of the Spanish Meliá chain, which caters to executive business travelers.
In 1520, the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado arrived in the Americas and was sent from Mexico by Hernán Cortés to conquer Guatemala. After bloody battles with the indigenous peoples, he succeeded in his objective and in 1524 the first capital of Guatemala was founded, called Santiago de Guatemala. The name "Guatemala" means "Land of Trees" in nahuatl—the language spoken by the Mexican Indians who accompanied Alvarado—and refers to the forests that were everywhere in this land.
The first capital essentially usurped the city of Iximché, which belonged to the cackchiquel people. After several revolts by the indigenous population, it was moved, in 1527, to the Almononga valley at the foot of the Volcán de Agua ("the Volcano of Water") in a place that is now a small village called the Ciudad Vieja, or "Old City." In 1541, an earthquake brought a mudslide down from the side of the volcano and destroyed the town. After much study, it was decided to move the capital to the Panchoy valley, still near the Volcán de Agua, but also near the Volcán de Fuego and the Volcán de Acatenango. The city assumed its administrative duties two years later and in 1566 was bequeathed the official title of "The Very Noble and Very Loyal City of Santiago of the Knights of Guatemala." Despite frequent earthquakes and volcanoes, Guatemala City continued to grow and today it is considered, by some, the third city of the New World, after Mexico City and Lima. Santiago de Guatemala was the capital and economic hub of the Kingdom of Guatemala—what are now the five countries of Central America—and it was here that most of the royalty lived. The future looked bright for this city until the devastating "Santa Marta" earthquakes in 1773 ended its colonial role. Despite opposition from the church, the city was moved once again. Santiago de Guatemala, now known as Antigua, is a national monument and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. It is, today, the second most visited tourist destination in Guatemala.
Although the new Guatemalan capital, called Guatemala de la Asunción, was founded at the end of the colonial era, it preserved the design and the social separation of a Spanish colonial city. The new urban area was more spacious, the new Plaza Mayor (Great Plaza) was almost double the size of the one built in Antigua, and the streets were considerably wider. The architecture of the public buildings was not dominated by the colonial Baroque style, but by Neo-Classicism. The secular and ecclesiastical buildings were built around the Plaza Mayor with the town-hall on the north and the Palacio Real on the west side. The cathedral and the Palacio Arzobispal were built on the east. Construction was limited by lack of money and workers, which is why many of the new buildings were built with materials salvaged from old Antigua.
Four blocks from the Plaza Mayor other squares were built, one in each direction. The presence of religious temples was not as predominant as it was in Antigua, but nevertheless the Church took possession of 60 percent the city's central sector. Private 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 an outward appearance so uniform that the only difference between houses was their size. Commerce was conducted in the central market at the Plaza Mayor and in the stores located at the Portal del Comercio to the south. The principal road axis was the Calle Real, (Royal Road) between the Plaza Mayor and the Calvario, known today as 6 South Avenue, Zone 1. After the Independence of Guatemala in 1821, few modifications were made to the city until the Liberals came to power in 1871.
The Conservative Government, which came to power in 1855, introduced street nomenclature based on proper names such as Calle del Calvario or Calle del Olvidos. The names indicated salient features about the street, its history or zone. During this period, the University of 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 install the University's museum, MUSAC. During the Conservative reign, many church buildings were constructed, as were two military forts, for use during the Central American civil wars. The San José fort, built in 1846, was demolished and replaced by a modern construction, the Teatro Nacional, on Calle 24 3-81, Zone 1. The San Rafael de Matamoros fort was constructed in 1858 in the northeast of the city and still functions as a military base today. Another building that typifies the epoch is that which housed the Economic Society for Friends of the Country, finished in 1855 at what is now 9 Avenue 9-44, Zone 1. This building was later used by the Liberal Government for its Legislative Assembly and now serves as the National Congress.
When the Liberals took office, they made many changes to the colonial way of life of Guatemala. The national economy was oriented towards coffee cultivation, and still constitutes the country's principal export. The Liberals encouraged European immigration, which led to the first phases of urbanization, and in turn the establishment of European institutions such as banks. The expansion was made possible by the seizure of church property. In 1877, the street's nomenclature changed, with proper names substituted by a numerical system that is still used today. In 1890, President Barillas ordered the construction of a suburb called "Exposición", with the Guatemalan Pavilion of the Paris World Exhibition at its center. With this suburb, the first diagonal streets were created, today the routes and vias in Zone 4.
The Liberal president José María Reyna Barrios (1892-1898) was a typical Euro-centric oligarch. He decided to give the city a facelift, taking as his model Paris. In 1892, he decreed the creation of a public garden as site for the upcoming Central American Exhibition. He ordered the establishment of the Boulevard 30 de Junio, known today as Avenida La Reforma, and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. The beautification drew the wealthier families from the center into the south. The architectural style of the private houses was also modified, replacing the Mudejar style with other imported styles.
Another prestigious neighborhood was the Hipódromo Norte around the Avenida Hipódromo. With the construction of Minerva's temple and park, the central Avenida 6 was also extended north, and became Avenida Minerva, 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 was built. This is a must-see attraction! In the 1950s, many of modern buildings were constructed, such as the Centro Cívico, where the Public Finance Ministry, the Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo (INGUAT) and other institutions are located. As Guatemala has grown, new architectural styles have appeared which is very apparent on the Avenida La Reforma.