Museo de Santiago

Entry hall of the Museo de Santiago, a large bust of Pedro de Alvarado looks down on two 18th century howitzers; behind are six-gauge wall guns.

Entry hall of the Museo de Santiago, a large bust of Pedro de Alvarado looks down on two 18th century howitzers; behind are six-gauge wall guns.

text and photos by Ira Lewis

The Museo de Santiago de los Caballeros in La Antigua Guatemala is a must see. It’s among several museums and many churches and ruins in La Antigua, but most people miss it, even though it is located right on the fringe of Central Park. Although under-funded and in need of some upkeep, the museum really has some of the best exhibits tracing the history of Guatemala. A half hour there gives you an idea of Guatemalan history from conquest to the 19th century.
The museum has a very interesting collection of antique weapons dating from the conquest to the beginning of the 20th century. Almost all changes in history have been tied to advances in weaponry—from tying a rock on a stick to make a better club, to the atomic bomb.

The fact that the weapons exhibited are not pristine, shiny examples of “hung-on-a-wall” display arms makes them even more interesting. Many are real weapons, which were used, and continued to be used and modified and upgraded and used up. This history traces what happened in Guatemala. Some of the displays are reproductions, including spikes and clubs from the conquest—the bows and arrows are real. But with a little imagination one can follow what happened from the time of Pedro de Alvarado to the beginning of the 20th century.

The antique arms collection, unfortunately, had never been properly identified. A new resident of La Antigua noticed erroneous descriptions or none at all. When he mentioned this to Museum Director María Antonieta Godoy Muñoz, she replied, “Yes, we get so many questions that we really cannot answer because we just don’t know what they are.”

The newcomer offered to help. Even with an extensive knowledge of antique arms, he still needed a year of research, calling on experts from two continents, and then another year of writing and translating—the many little-used technical terms were especially difficult—before the new resident could donate a definitive set of descriptions for the historically significant arms. Sr. Gustavo Azmitia of La Copia Fiel collaborated by providing a great deal of free art work and printing at cost.

Now, museum visitors can understand what they are looking at. As the new descriptions were being hung, a large group of students on a field trip arrived. They were avidly reading the descriptions and making notes, especially interested in the dates, instead of just wandering by and glancing at the “old guns.”

Don’t miss the Museo de Santiago de los Caballeros, it’s an important one in La Antigua.

On a follow-up visit by the newcomer, Directora Godoy mentioned that several paintings needed cleaning and restoration. There are restoration experts working on paintings from other museums who could do the paintings in Museo de Santiago, but there’s no funds. A small donation, either in the form of materials or cash would help preserve some important history of Guatemala. Your contact is Directora Godoy, fax (502) 7832-2860 or email museosantiago at

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