In the Panchoy valley, surrounded by the Agua, Fuego, and Acatenago volcanoes, the city of Antigua was founded in 1543. In 1549, the first two-story structure in the city was erected along the south end of the Plaza Mayor, or main square. This prominent baroque complex, known as the Royal Palace of the Capitanes Generales, was commissioned as the political and military headquarters for the Spanish colonies of Central America. The architecture is characterized by a series of courtyard buildings with masonry arcades facing the city’s main square and contains a residence for the governor, an old jail, government offices, and the ruins of the former mint. The Royal Palace of the Capitanes Generales endured as the center for the Spanish colonial leadership for over two centuries. However, the original structure was damaged by several earthquakes during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The complex was reconstructed and modified several times, until it was partially destroyed by the 1773 earthquake. Due to the continued threat of seismic activity, the capital was relocated to Guatemala City in 1776, and after this time the city acquired the name Antigua to denote its former status as capital. When the political epicenter shifted to the newly founded capital, large portions of the city became derelict. However, a dynamic process of reuse ensued as various religious and manufacturing interests remaining in Antigua began occupying the empty buildings. As a result, numerous historic structures in Antigua, including the Capitanes Generales, survive, albeit in a mixed state of conservation. At the Capitanes Generales, the most authentic and complete structures are the jail—which is threatened by structural instability aggravated by the heavy use as police quarters—and the government offices. The palace and mint are mostly ruins, with only portions of the original structures in use. The entire complex has been affected by earthquakes and lack of adequate maintenance. Over time, structural instability, cracks, and water penetration, have led to the progressive loss of original fabric.
2008 World Monuments Watch
In 2006, the Guatemalan Ministry of Culture allocated funds for the rehabilitation and adaptive re-use of the site but additional funding was needed to complete its implementation. In 2008, the complex was placed on the Watch to highlight its plight, and WMF contributed to the preservation and reuse effort of the complex. The specific actions supported by WMF include the development of a conservation plan and a proposal for a new use of the monument; the development of a management plan for the complex; the design of an interpretation center and the production of interpretive materials about the history of Antigua Guatemala and the Real Palacio as a historic monument and the installation of a temporary exhibition about WMF in Guatemala and the world inaugurated in November 2014.
Through community participation, the rehabilitation of the palace has been embraced by the private sector as well. Several public workshops were organized to determine the optimum use of the site, and its conservation criteria with the participation of local and international experts and community representatives.The jail has been restored as an interpretation center and museum, and the old palace has been partially reconstructed to house a cultural center.