Antigua Guatemala means “Ancient Guatemala” and was the third capital of Guatemala. The first capital of Guatemala was founded on the site of a Kakchikel-Maya city, now calledIximche, on Monday, July 25, 1524—the day of Saint James—and therefore named Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Goathemalan (City of Saint James of the Knights of Guatemala). Naturally, St. James became the patron saint of the city.
After several Kaqchikel uprisings, the capital was moved to a more suitable site in the Valley of Almolonga (place of water) on November 22, 1527, and kept its original name. This new city was located on the site of present-day San Miguel Escobar, which is a neighborhood in the municipality of Ciudad Vieja. This city was destroyed on September 11, 1541 by a devastating lahar from the Volcán de Agua. As a result, the colonial authorities decided to move the capital once more, this time five miles away to the Panchoy Valley. So, on March 10, 1543 the Spanish conquistadors founded present-day Antigua, and again, it was named Santiago de los Caballeros. For more than 200 years it served as the seat of the military governor of the Spanish colony of Guatemala, a large region that included almost all of present-day Central America and the southernmost State of Mexico.
Santiago de los Caballeros was the third seat of the capital called kingdom of Guatemala which included the current states of Guatemala , Belize , El Salvador, Honduras,Nicaragua and Costa Rica, besides modern state of Chiapas in Mexico. After a flood destroyed the second city, located in the Valley of Almolonga, on the slopes of Volcán de Agua a new city was built in 1543 in the Valley of Panchoy, and it was established as head of the Real Audiencia of Guatemala in 1549.
During its development and splendor was known as one of the three most beautiful cities of the Spanish Indies.
The city was laid out in a square pattern, with streets running north to south and from east to west, with a central square. For both church and government buildings were designated important places around the central plaza. Between 1549 and 1563, property southeast of the square was sold to the crown and occupied by the first president of the Real Audiencia de los Confines: the lawyer Alonso Lopez Cerrato, who also served as governor and captain general. The original building was small and paneled with portal, tile roof and adobe walls. The city is surrounded by three enormous volcanoes, and mountains, plains and hills. This territory was called “Valley of Guatemala” and had 73 villages, two towns and the city of Santiago de los Caballeros.
Due to constant problems between the conquerors and the representatives of the crown sent by the king of Spain, the Audiencia de los Confines was abolished in 1565. In 1570 the hearing was restored, this time independent of the viceroy of Mexico and the new organization was called Audiencia of Guatemala.
The Franciscan monks were the first to move into the valley Panchoy, the new capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala, and built a chapel on the site where later the Church Escuela de Cristo would be erected. This primitive chapel was destroyed in 1575 by an earthquake and during the next ten years collections were made to build the new complex, two blocks from the previous one.
The Franciscan complex became a major cultural and religious center for the entire Captaincy General of Guatemala: theologians, jurists, philosophers, physicists and mathematicians studied in the school of San Buenaventura, which was located where the monastery ruins are. At that school studied Cristóbal de Villalpando, Thomas Merlo and Alonso de Paz.