Awash with history, Antigua is home to a handful of museums well worth making time for between your explorations of the city and the surrounding landscape. Displays range from arts and sculptures to religious artifacts to wonderfully restored 17th century architecture.
Museo de Arte Colonial
On the former site of San Carlos University, the Museo de Arte Colonial (5a Calle Oriente #5, tel. 7832-0429, 9am-4pm Tues.-Fri., 9am-noon and 2pm-4pm Sat.-Sun., $3.50) harbors sculptures of saints, murals, furniture, and colonial paintings by Mexican artists. A beautiful Moorish courtyard dominates the surviving architecture.
Centro Cultural Casa Santo Domingo
The site was once the city’s largest and wealthiest monastery, with a church completed in 1666, but it was damaged and eventually destroyed by the 18th-century earthquakesAntigua’s finest museum is housed inside the Casa Santo Domingo hotel: Centro Cultural Casa Santo Domingo (3a Calle Oriente #28, tel. 7832-0140 or 7820-1220, 9am-6pm Mon.-Sat., 11:15am-6pm Sun., $5). The site was once the city’s largest and wealthiest monastery, with a church completed in 1666, but it was damaged and eventually destroyed by the 18th-century earthquakes. Several museums are housed within the same complex, including the colonial museum harboring Catholic relics, among them an old Roman coin found during the excavations for the hotel’s construction. Other highlights of this wonderful historic complex include a gorgeous monastery church, cleared of rubble and restored in the early 1990s. It is now frequently used for weddings. Below this area are two crypts. The first of these, the Cripta del Calvario, has a well-preserved Crucifixion mural. The other crypt harbors two graves with human bones.
There is also a small archaeological museum, but the highlight here is the Museo Vigua de Arte Precolombino y Vidrio Moderno, a fantastic, well-presented juxtaposition of colonial and pre-Columbian artifacts mixed with glass art. Rounding out the impressive list of attractions is the Casa de la Cera, an elaborate candle shop.
Authentically restored to recreate the living conditions of a 17th-century official, Casa Popenoe (1a Avenida Sur #2, tel. 2338-7959, by appointment only with a minimum of six people, 8am-4pm Mon.-Fri., 8am-11am Sat., $10) was originally built in 1762 by wealthy merchant Venancia López Marchán upon the ruins of two homes from 1650.
Like much of Antigua, it was left abandoned after the 1773 earthquakes until Dr. Wilson Popenoe and his wife, Dorothy, bought it in 1929. Dr. Popenoe, an agricultural scientist, worked with the United Fruit Company for much of his career and had a long history of adventures in plant collecting and botany in addition to his painstaking restoration of this fantastic cultural monument. He died in 1975, but two of his daughters continued to live in the house, one the noted archaeologist Marion Popenoe Hatch. The house was eventually donated to Guatemala’s Francisco Marroquín University. You’ll see paintings of Bishop Francisco Marroquín and fierce conqueror Pedro de Alvarado. Also on display are the wonderfully restored servants’ quarters and kitchen. A narrow staircase leads up to the roof terrace, from where there are gorgeous views of Antigua and the volcanoes off in the distance.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Guatemala.