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July 18, 2011


 ‘Antes de la tormenta’…

“Like a volcano at the point of eruption is Chichicastenango on the eve of the Sunday market. The early arrivals have set up their booths and are now sitting down to eat hot corn tortillas, freshly made by hand, topped with vegetables and meat. In front of the church, worshippers burn incense and say prayers over lit candles. Everyone is in waiting, saving their energies for tomorrow’s show. The backpackers trickle in, in search of hostels. Women carrying wrapped bundles on their heads or shoulders pass by men bearing loads on their backs, stooped over under the weight, all for the exchange and barter of goods.

The sky darkens. The streetlights come on. The smell of incense floats through the air. The people get ready. The birds sing each other to sleep.”



Chichicastenango, also known as Santo Tomás Chichicastenango, is a town in the El Quiché department of Guatemala, known for its traditional K’iche’ Maya culture. The Spanish conquistadors gave the town its name from the Nahuatl name used by their soldiers from Tlaxcala: Tzitzicaztenanco, or City of Nettles. Its original name was Chaviar.

Chichicastenango serves as the municipal seat for the surrounding municipality of the same name.

Chichicastenango is a large indigenous town, lying on the crests of mountaintops at an altitude of 1,965 m (6,447 ft). It is located about 140 km (87 miles) northwest of Guatemala City.

Chichicastenango is well known for its famous market days on Thursdays and Sundays where vendors sell handicrafts, food, flowers, pottery, wooden boxes, condiments, medicinal plants, candles, pom and copal (traditional incense), cal (lime stones for preparing tortillas), grindstones, pigs and chickens, machetes, and other tools. In the central part of the market plaza are small eateries (comedores).

Among the items sold are textiles, particularly the women’s blouses. The manufacture of masks, used by dancers in traditional dances, such as the Dance of the Conquest, have also made this city well-known for woodcarving.

Church of Santo TomásSteps of Santo TomásMain article: Iglesia de Santo Tomás

Next to the market is the 400-year old

church of Santo Tomás.

Chichicastenango Market

The venerated steps of Santo Tomas Church, Chichicastenango

It is built atop a Pre-Columbian temple platform, and the steps originally leading to a temple of the pre-Hispanic Maya civilization remain venerated. K’iche’ Maya priests still use the church for their rituals, burning incense and candles. In special cases, they burn a chicken for the gods. Each of the 18 stairs that lead up to the church stands for one month of the Maya calendar year. Another key element of Chichicastenango is the Cofradia of Pascual Abaj, which is an ancient carved stone venerated nearby and the Maya priests perform several rituals there. Writing on the stone records the doings of a king named Tohil (Fate).




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