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The impressive market occupying a swathe of the western edge of Antigua is the place to go find whatever you need, particularly on Saturday, Monday, and Thursday, the big market days. Cross the Alameda Santa Lucia from any mid-town spot; the market's edges trickle imprecisely into the bus terminal, envelop the Mercado de Artesanias, and sprawl into the parking lots behind the covered stalls, out to the Avenida de la Recolección. By far the best place to look for fresh produce, the market also contains clusters of comedores or food stalls, bakeries, clothing, watches, CDs, craft supplies, cosmetics, meats, and the odd basket of live chickens.
One of the best-known sights in Antigua is the attractive yellow span of the Arco de Santa Catalina, bridging the appropriately-named Calle del Arco to the north of the Parque Central. It was originally built so that nuns could cross the street invisibly, and today it provides a picturesque frame for La Merced from the south. A clock tower was added during the 19th century reconstruction of the 1694 arch. Bars and shops now line the sidewalks immediately beneath the arch, and the road is closed to motorists on weekends to provide a relaxing pedestrian atmosphere.
The magnificent façade facing the eastern side of the Parque Central is known as the Catedral de Santiago, although it is technically the Parroquia de San José - a parish church. Most of the original construction is now in ruins, due to the earthquakes that have periodically struck Antigua throughout its history. The contemporary Catedral sits within the entrance hall of the 17th century original, while the rest remains as enormous, crumbling arches and columns. It is essential to walk through the Parque Central at night during a visit to Antigua, when you can glimpse the dramatic beauty of the lighted facade.
As viewers gaze south from the many rooftops and terraces boasting panoramas of Antigua, the spectacular dome crowning the Iglesia de San Francisco stands proudly silhouetted against Volcán Agua. The baroque-style colonial edifice has weathered many earthquakes and visitors today can wander through the ruins and historical museum and imagine the history embedded into these engraved walls. The living culture of this place can be gleaned by attending mass, held three times each day and six times on Sunday, in the vast chapel which was reconstructed in the 1960s. The interior of the church is a blend of elegance and religion, with revered paintings adorning the walls. This is also the site of the Santuario del Santo Hermano Pedro, a Franciscan friar from the late 17th century who continues to represent love for the poor and charity as he did during his life. He was officially sainted in 2002, and as one of the most beloved religious figures in Guatemala, his tomb remains a common destination for pilgrimages.
Literally and figuratively the center of Antigua, Parque Central is near constantly a bustling hub for people watching, public musical performances, and meetings with friends. All street names and addresses in Antigua include their cardinal direction relative to this spot : a square block of wide pathways dotted by geometrical islands of greenery and criss-crossed by everyone in town. The large fountain at the center spouts streams of water from controversial parts of carved angels and mermaids, and can provide hours of peaceful entertainment.