The Doors of Antigua Guatemala

Entrance to La Merced Monastery, one of the few original doors of Antigua (César Tián /

Entrance to La Merced Monastery, one of the few original doors of Antigua (César Tián /

Many visitors comment on the beauty of Antigua’s colonial doors. In fact, there are very few original colonial doors left as, when the capital was moved to Guatemala City in 1773-74, almost all of the doors, balconies, furniture and art were moved too. A few of the only original doors include one inside the ruins of the Cathedral of San José, some found inside Capuchinas and one of the most beautiful: the entrance to the La Merced Monastery (one of my favorites). But, indeed, Antigua does have exceptional doors.

While colonial doors (collected over the years) are located at the Hotel Posada de Don Rodrigo and inside fine homes, one of my favorite new colonial-style doors is at the Popenoe House. The house, now owned by the Universidad Francisco Marroquín and only open for special events including concerts, was restored by Dr. Wilson Popenoe and his family after 1929. After a great amount of historical research, some published in Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala by his wife, Dorothy H. Popenoe (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1933), this gorgeous colonial-style door is quite functional.

You may open half of the door for the horse, both doors for the carriage, and there is a small door that opens as a “people” door. Large door knockers are located up high for the horsemen and a beautiful brass doorknocker for people. Brass lions and hands are of Moorish (Muslim/Arabic) influence that the Spanish brought from Spain to Guatemala after 1524. We also find Moorish influence in the beautiful tachones, which may be in the form of rosetas (brass or iron decorations) that were initially placed on doors so that the camels in the Muslim world would not rub against the doors and knock them over. Alas, no lions or camels in Guatemala but the beautiful decorations remain.

Visitors usually are not aware that we are welcome inside any open door in Antigua. Well, that is if both doors are open. Door etiquette has it that if one part of the door is open, that is not considered “open doors” (peek but do not enter), but if both sides of the door are open, we are welcome to explore behind the walls.

Always greeting the location and its inhabitants with a buenos días or buenas tardes, we find that this is really the only way to see behind the doors and get a feeling for Antigua’s lovely courtyards and colonial architecture, which has been blended with the new more recently. After usually inspecting what would be the back patio (I love the old kitchen/chimeneas), we exit (usually by the same door) with a gracias.

Antigua has opened up since 1969 when it seemed a quiet, dormant town. While all of the properties you may visit are commercial, the feeling behind the doors is much the same as in colonial times.

Original door detail, entrance to La Merced Monastery (César Tián /

Original door detail, entrance to La Merced Monastery (César Tián /

One comment

  • Peter Basualto

    I visited Antigua a few years back and saw the amazing doors of the residences.

    Can you tell me where I can buy those doors. Preferably antique authentic?

    Bets regards,

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