Don't expect the opulence of Cuzco's cathedral. The Catedral is rather bland inside. The facade is beautiful and it dominates the central square. Today's cathedral is a fraction of the original complex, which was destroyed during numerous earthquakes. You can visit the wrecked remains of the rest of the structure. Worth snooping for, behind the altar, are steps leading down to a little black crypt.
The "Iglesia y Convento de la Recolección" (also known as the "Colegio de Cristo Crucificado de Misiones Apostólicas de Propaganda Fide") is one of the four sets of colonial ruins in Antigua Guatemala that are maintained by the "Consejo Nacional para la Protección de la Antigua Guatemala" (National Council for the Protection of Antigua Guatemala). Entrance fees to each one of these historic monuments - the other three are the Las Capuchinas Church and Convent, the San Jerónimo School, and the Santa Clara Church and Convent - cost Q30 ($3.95) for visitors from outside Central America. If your time and/or budget won't allow you to visit all four of these showpiece ruins, and if what you’re looking for are large-scale ruins (i.e. huge chunks of walls and ceilings lying about all over the place, as if the earthquake that shook everything to the ground happened just last week, rather than in 1773), then look no further than "La Recolección."
This is a huge church and monastery complex in ruins, inaugurated in 1717 and felled in 1773. It is spectacular. The cost of the entrance is a bit steep at 40 Quetzales. Residents can get in for much less, and besides me - the sole visitor - there were many young couples engaged in gallant discourse among the many nooks and alcoves.
The facade of this ruined church is unique because of the fresco work that is still visible with fairly vibrant and sometimes faint coloring. The original organization here included a convent, school, and the church and was founded in 1582. In 1767 the Jesuitas were forced to leave the country and the buildings were vacant until a textile factory opened up shop here in the 19th century.
As with other structures of the time, La Compania de Jesus suffered from the series of major earthquakes in the 17th and 18th centuries. Reconstructions continued until the great earthquake of 1773. Following the textile factory, public offices were established here and at one point the Mercado de Artesanias was also located here. The former convent portion of the building is currently (2007) used as is the seat of the Center of Formation of the Spanish Cooperation. Visitors can go in and see the restored areas of the convent which from photos I've seen since my trip it would be well worth seeing.
Behind the rebuilt Cathedral of San Jose are the ruins of what must have been at one time the most impressive cathedral in Latin America. The first Cathedral was built on this site in 1545. The ruins that can be visited today date from the 1773 earthquake.
The construction of Las Capuchinas, more formally known as the "Iglesia y Convento de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza," was completed on January 25, 1736. The nuns who called this convent home were prohibited from having any visual contact with the outside world; they received their food by means of a turntable and they could only speak to visitors through a grill. The convent's most distinguishing feature is a circular structure containing the eighteen cells that served as the living quarters for the nuns who resided there. The convent's courtyard, its arched corridors, its exterior gardens, and its small collection of colonial-era religious statues and relics are also worth taking a look at.
The second picture attached to this tip, of the entrances to the nuns' tiny cells, shows that apparently there wasn't much difference between being sent off to a colonial convent and being sent off to a medieval prison.
This church ruin is accessed via the Casa Santo Domingo hotel. The site is one of the more expensive entry fees in Antigua but it includes the ruins and 3 or 4 onsite museums. It by far the best preserved and presented ruin and museum in Antigua
The modern "Catedral de Santiago," facing Antigua's central park, isn't particularly attractive or noteworthy, compared to a few of the town's other churches; more interesting and picturesque are the ruins of the huge 17th-century cathedral that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773. For a donation of Q3 ($0.39), you can check out the arches that once supported a huge dome, five naves, and a total of eighteen chapels, as well as the few statues and adornments that have survived through the centuries.
The San Jerónimo school had a short and somewhat tumultuous existence. Built between 1739 and 1757, the school was closed down by Spanish King Carlos III because it lacked his royal approval. From 1765 until 1773 (when it was destroyed by earthquakes), the former school served as the royal customs house. Although the guidebook I have describes these ruins as "spectacular," I found them to be the least interesting of the four monuments that are maintained by the "Consejo Nacional para la Protección de la Antigua Guatemala." The gardens that surround the ruins of the Colegio de San Jerónimo might be more impressive than the ruins themselves
The ruins here are among the most impressive and easily accessible in Antigua. Located in the northwest corner of town, the fallen walls and ceiling of the church lie where they fell during the earthquake of 1773. Upon examining the fallen boulder-sized brick and plaster work one can tell that the Antiquenos took the seismic threat very seriously as the walls are several feet thick. Its setting beyond an expanse of lawn upon entering the grounds after paying the fee is impressive. Visitors are free to walk amongst the ruins inside and outside of the church.
On our visit we were the only ones there which made for a nice, tranquillo visit. There isn't a whole lot to see except the ruins but they are impressive and worth the entry fee in my opinion.
Friars of the Merced order were responsible for this structure, built in 1757. However it was closed a few years later when it was discovered that it did not have a royal license from the King of Spain to operate. As a result it was taken over by the Spanish government of King Carlos III which eventually converted its use to that of a customs house. It was later destroyed in the 1773 earthquake.
The small facade can be viewed up close and without paying the entry fee on the west side of the complex. A small fee is required to enter the grounds and to go inside of the remaining structure which includes the cloister surrounding a pretty garden with an octogonal fountain. It is a small set of ruins and you can decide if it's worth the entry fee by looking in from the entry kiosk before paying. We paid to go in and were glad we did.
Established by an order of Capuchin nuns in the mid-1700s, the grounds are well-maintained while restoration efforts continue to this day. Seriously damanged during the 1773 earthquake, the convent was abandonded. The interior grounds are pretty with well-groomed gardens and interior rooms with interesting architectural features. Of main interest are the nuns rooms or cells which are situated around a circular courtyard on the second floor. The rooms are small but have their own bathroom and study area. There is a renovated room which depicts what it must have been like when in use during the 18th century.
The facade of this ruined church is stunning with its intricately carved columns. It is also impressive due to the amount of damage that it have obviously sustained. A look through the locked iron gate reveals a large amount of rubble within. Built in 1728 it was completely destroyed in 1773 and lies in the same state as it was in immediately following that disaster over 240 years ago. A traditional Mayan craft market sets up directly in front of the church each day.
Antigua is a great town to walk around it as is compact and built on a grid pattern. As one walks around the visitor will pass many church ruins, the result of a major earthquake in 1773 which led to the relocation of the colonial capital from Antigua to Guatemala City. Many of these churches were never restored or reopened, with gigantic pieces of the fallen structure still lying where they fell over 200 years ago.
San Agustin is one such church and like many that haven't been restored it is fenced off and closed to the public. However the facade like many of the 18th century churches is interesting even if many of the sculpted figures have long since been removed.
From an architectural standpoint, the ruins of the Santa Clara church and convent might not be particularly impressive, but the gardens stand out as a great place to see and photograph a good selection of the many beautiful flowers that call Antigua Guatemala home.
The Santa Clara church, which can be perfectly observed from the street, without having to pay the entrance fee to the convent, isn't on the whole terribly interesting, but it does have its artistic flourishes here and there.