Today was dedicated to seeing the historical sites of Guatemala City, and along the way to the historical center of the city, I kept noticing vendors with piñata devils for sale on the street corners. Why? Today is Quema del Diablo, and at 6 pm today, people here performed a ritual of cleansing by burning all those devils, which represent evil spirits that are eradicated when burned. Between the burnings and the fireworks that follow, the city is filled with black smoke and soot. We watched the burnings and fireworks from our hotel's tenth floor panoramic plate glass window overlooking downtown and this valley surrounded by 37 volcanoes. What a site!
Because my pictures of the burnings didn't turn out too well, you might want to search for images of Quema del Diablo. Very interesting, and perhaps a bit creepy.
Back to this morning ... Our first stop was Kaminaljuyu (pronounced kam-in-al'-hu-yu) Archaelogical Park, the ancient Mayan city (from 1000 BC to 1000 AD). This park with many temple mounds is only a portion of the city that once housed about 50,000 people and had thirteen ball courts with many large temple mounds. I was surprised to discover what we call Spanish Moss in the U.S. Here it’s called Musgo, and it’s used to decorate homes during Christmas.
The Acropolis of Kaminaljuyu contained a ball court, many tunnels,
hieroglyphics, and burial statues.
Next, we visited the Museo Miraflores, a museum a few miles away from the previous park that only exists because of Mayan artifacts discovered during construction of a modern mall, and the artifacts are now housed in the museum inside the mall. Outside are three temple mounds kept intact.
Afterwards we headed to zone one of the twenty-two zones in the city, to tour the historical city center. Atop a high hill, we were enchanted by the Iglesia Cerrito del Carmen, constructed in the 1600s.
We toured the National Palace of Culture, full of symbolic artwork displaying the cultural conflicts of the Spanish conquistadors and the Maya peoples and where the Guatemalan president still entertains dignitaries.
My friend Laura told the tour guide she would translate for me. When we reached the drawing room, from where all Guatemalan roads originate at kilometre zero, the tour guide asked questions, and the ones who correctly answered were allowed to walk around the ropes to enter the room. Because Laura is a smart one, she entered, and I was allowed to go with her. We were told that the dome above the center of the room allowed for perfect acoustics for voices to be heard, and as you can imagine, those of us in the center of the room were instructed to stand and speak from that spot. Laura had no problem speaking to the crowd of onlookers. I panicked about what to say, and all I could come up with was “¡Hola! ¡Gracias!” Believe it or not, I received applause!
Laura is translating the tour guide's words and pointing to the spot where he stands, which
is where we each had to stand and speak to the crowd watching from outside the room.
Later, we entered the Metropolitan Cathedral across the plaza from the National Palace of Culture, and a hush fell over us. With arched ceilings, beautiful stone floors, and numerous altars and paintings, this historical monument from 1815 houses artwork that was originally in the Cathedral of Antigua, Guatemala, including the Virgen del Perpetua Socorro, brought to the country in 1522.
Tomorrow we’ll visit more cathedrals and historical buildings in nearby Antigua, the previous capital of the country until numerous earthquakes necessitated moving the capital to Guatemala City in 1776. Check back to see what I learn!