1773 Guatemala Earthquake Time Capsule

1773 Guatemala Earthquake Snapshot

An earthquake struck Guatemala on July 29, 1773 and had an estimated epicentral intensity magnitude of 7.5 Mi. It was followed by numerous aftershocks which lasted until December 1773. The series of all these earthquakes is also referred to as the Santa Marta earthquakes as it had started on the feast day of Saint Martha. With an intensity of approximately 7.5 the Santa Marta earthquakes destroyed much of Antigua Guatemala, at that time the colonial capital of Central America. About 500 – 600 people died immediately and at least another 600 died from starvation and disease as a result of the earthquake.

Spanish authorities had already considered moving the capital to a safer area after the devastation of the 1717 earthquake and decided after the 1773 event not to rebuild the city again. Thus in 1776 the capital was moved to the new city of Guatemala of Asuncion, known today as today Guatemala City. (source: Wikipedia)

Las ruinas de La Recolección still stand as they were left after the earthquake of July 29, 1773, thus the ruins served as testimony and document of the powerful forces the quakes of Santa Marta. It’s sort of Antigua Guatemala’s time capsule.

Have you visited the ruins of La Recolección?

1773 Guatemala Earthquake Snapshot 2 1773 Guatemala Earthquake Snapshot 3

© 2010 – 2013, Rudy Giron. All rights reserved.

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  • Pascu Robredo

    I am sure you always consider moving to a safer place after an earthquake but there is a deeper reason for moving the city to the New Guatemala of La Asuncion. Ther were no banks and credit companies at that time. Many home owners mortgaged their properties to the Catholic Church for cash. After the 1773 earthquake, the King of Spain Charles III was advised by the captain general Martin the Mayorga to move the city, give real estate to the spaniards in the new location and start over again. This idea might have been appealing to the King who did not like Church picking its nose into royal business. Actually Charles III had sent all Jesuits away from the kingdom limits just a few years earlier. Martin de Mayorga was granted with a executive job in Mexico. That is why most of the valuable pieces of art were carried to the new city, including arches, pillars, fountains… More damage was done by people than the eaarthquake. Many ruins were turned into.. quarries.

    • @Pascu, thank you for the insightful contribution. I have heard the same story from Chema Magaña; more damage was actually done by people than by the earthquakes.

  • Cristina

    I heard that the reason Antigüeños are called Panzas Verdes was that, because there was no food after the Santa Marta earthquakes, they had to resort to eating hierbas and aguacates. Is this true?
    Thank you Pascu for this window into history. There had to be more to moving than the earthquake, since all of Guatemala is prone to having these natural catastrophes.
    I can only imagine the horror of seeing these enormous blocks falling! Where could you run to? if the whole city had walls that were this thick! I love las Ruinas de la Recolección!

    • @Cristina, I have never heard that, but that sounds quite plausible. I will ask around to see what’s the real story behind the Panzas Verdes. Although, to be honest, I believe it will turn out to be lost in history as the etymology of the word Gringo. 🙁

  • Cristina, I’ve heard three or four different explanations for that, including that it’s so humid in Antigua that locals have moss growing on their bellies, and also that Antiguenos eat more vegetables than others…would love to hear ‘the’ reason.

  • Erick

    I really enjoy these blog entries and follow-up posts. I haven’t visited these ruins since I was a kid, so it’s pretty neat to see pictures of them and read about the historical events that some of you have shared above.

    The thickness of those walls is simply mesmerizing, I guess that’s why those old churches are so nice and cool inside.

    The moss-on-the-belly theory is hilarious! Maybe they would wipe their hands on their shirts after eating aguacates — hence the Panzas Verdes nickname?

  • alvis

    Add to Pascu’s astute historical insight, that the Bourbon Reforms were just beginning to really take hold in the colonies and the Crown dearly wished to wrestle some of the power from the creole elites in order to re-establish its own hegemony over the region. The move from Antigua to the new site also fit quite well into this Peninsular desire. Note that the Marques de Aycinena was one of the smarter Antiguenos and he threw his support behind the move, managing to maintain his position of power and authority in the post earthquake Captaincy-General.

    Thanks so much for the pix Rudy…I’m not going to be able to make it to Guatemala this summer as usual and this is a little slice of my second home that is much needed.

  • alvis

    Perhaps I should have said shrewder Antiguenos rather than smart in regard to the Marquis

  • Lisa

    I could be imagining it, but the ruins of the Recoleccion look quite a bit like the ruins featured in the 1935 film, “Tarzan and the Green Goddess.” I know that part of the movie was filmed in Antigua, although I’m not sure exactly where.

    Its a beautiful ruin, that Recoleccion.

  • Stephanie

    Wow! These are the first photos that really give me a sense of the site. And thank you for the historical explanations. I will DEFINITELY be visiting this site!

  • Eric

    La Recoleccion es un de mis lugares favoritos en La Antigua. I am always speechless when standing between the enormous blocks of plaster, brick and stone in the center of las ruinas de La Recoleccion. It is unimaginable to me that men can build something that big out of those materials, and have it stand for any length of time at all. I can’t imagine what it would look like if it had not fallen.
    As an added bonus, after a few hours of admiring these ruins, you can walk over to the market and buy a fresh coconut with a straw. For 5Q, you get the perfect refreshment after a morning of inspirational sightseeing. What more could you want ?

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