Guatemala is a small Caribbean country with an area of 109 000 square km. It’s surrounded by Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador and its coasts touch the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The Siera Madre range intersects its territory from the East to the West. It’s one of the volcanic mountains dotted by both active and extinct volcanoes. That predisposes earthquake activities in the country which are a very common phenomenon especially in its southern parts.
Guatemala is a successor of the Maya country. Today around 50% of its inhabitants are descendants of the Mayans. That’s the reason why it’s often known as one of the “most Indian countries in Latin America”. The rest 50% of the residents are a “blend” of the Spanish colonizers and natives.
The country was colonized by the Spaniards in 1523-1524 and it was under their reign for three centuries. During that period of time they imposed Catholicism and Spanish as an official religion and everyday language, respectively. Nowadays Catholic Church is still official and predominant although lots of Catholic traditions include some Mayans’ traditional beliefs. As for the language, the same applies. Colloquial Spanish in Guatemala is mixed up with local dialects that have remained from the Maya civilization.
The most fascinating feature of the country is the wide range of colours that oppose themselves to the low standard of living and poverty. These colours could be seen everywhere – inside and outside the houses and in people’s clothes. They could be found in nature as well – in Guatemala’s water eyes (i.e. Lake Amatitlán, Lake Izabal, Lake Petén Itzá, Lake Güija, etc.), in its green jungles around the Mayan sacred sites, in colourful parrots and other representatives of the fauna and of course, in the flower carpet along the streets of the capital during Semana Santa every year.
As far as the capital is concerned, it is an old city. In the beginning its whole name was Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Goathemalan (City of Saint James of the Knights of Guatemala) and today it’s shortened to Antigua Guatemala (or Ancient/Old-World Guatemala). The city houses the monument to Bartolomé de las Casas who was one of the few Spaniards who cared about the Indians’ destiny and became one of the zealous supporters of the natives.
Guatemala is a tiny land but it’s famous for two things. Firstly, in 1889 it became one of the world greatest coffee producers and exporters for Europe because of the favourable soil and climate conditions in the country. This way the tradition of planting the crop became one of the major sources of income.
Secondly, the country is blessed to get Jadeite. It’s a mineral with two distinctive features – its hardness and the change of its colour. The latter ranges from white and green to blue-green, pink and lavender depending on the lightening. Its various colours became symbols of the major characteristics of the human beings like mercy, intellect, bravery and courage, justice, modesty. Amulets and talismans made of Jadeite were supposed to have protected people from disasters, hardships and unhappiness. In pre-Columbian civilizations, for example, the Mayans used it as a cult precious stone and they appreciated and valued it more than any other.