Boston’s Fenway Park has its Green Monster and so does Guatemala City . The former presidential palace, built between 1939 and 1943 during the time of maniacal dictator Jorge Ubico, is a large, green stone structure with elements of colonial and neoclassical architecture.
The 1996 peace accords were signed here and the building was subsequently converted into a museum (tel. 2230-1020, 9 a.m.–noon and 2–5 p.m. daily, $5). It is also sometimes used to host visiting dignitaries the likes of former President George W. Bush and actor Mel Gibson.
With most of Guatemala’s presidents preferring to live in other parts of the city, it has not housed a president during a term in office since the early 1990s.
The palace is one of Guatemala City’s most interesting attractions, as it affords the visitor a glimpse into Guatemala’s colonial and dictatorial legacy. After all, Guatemala City was once the capital of the entire Central American isthmus and nowhere else in the region were colonial institutions so embedded in the national fiber.
Similarly, Guatemala’s caudillos (military strongmen) needed a residence befitting their status as rulers of a quasifeudal kingdom, to which end the palace served them quite well.
You can take a guided tour of the palace so as to better appreciate the intriguing architecture, including some Moorish courtyards, frescoed arches made of carved stone, and artwork by several Guatemalan artists of the 1940s.
As you climb the wood-and-brass main stairway, you can admire a mural by Alredo Gálvez Suárez depicting a romanticized take on Guatemalan history. Stained-glass windows by Julio Urruela Vásquez and Roberto González Goyri can be found in the second-floor banquet hall adorning the palace; they depict the virtues of good government. You might also be able to see the presidential balcony, which overlooks the plaza in classic dictatorial fashion.
A more modern-day attraction is the Patio de la Paz, where a stone sculpture of two hands commemorates the 1996 signing of the peace accords. A white rose held in the outstretched hands is changed at 11 a.m. daily by the palace guards or, on special occasions, by visiting dignitaries.