Opposite the Church and Convent of the Poor Clare nuns – today, the Santa Clara monument (MAP E6) – at 2a Avenida Sur and 6a Calle Oriente in La Antigua, there’s a green space known as Parque La Unión, which has a picturesque meeting point: the enormous public water cistern and pila called “Tanque La Unión.” Its yellow color contrasts with and embellishes the colors that the indigenous washerwomen sport on their traditional and colorful huipiles. The scene is the very essence of La Antigua’s many and varied cityscapes.
The yellow color gives a colonial touch, taking advantage of the sunlight, although it should be noted that the water tank is a 19th-century construction. At that time, fashion had changed and the Baroque style was no longer used; the tank is of the neoclassical style, with simpler and more geometric lines – and with a light and airy series of arches.
This cistern and pila functioned as a place to wash laundry, as not all houses had somewhere to do so. Today it continues to serve as such for people who come from nearby towns and villages – such as Santa María de Jesús, located on the slopes of Volcán de Agua – where there isn’t much water available.
The construction here is due to the initiative of José María Palomo y Montúfar, the mayor who had several monuments erected in La Antigua after it was named a villa in 1813, with the renovations and reconstructions taking place some 60 years after the capital was moved to Guatemala City and La Antigua was abandoned (which turned out to be only a temporary desertion).
At this time, there were no parks in Guatemala’s cities and towns, but rather only open spaces – used both for commerce and recreation – known in the old Spanish style as plazas. The concept of parks eventually became part of Guatemalan thought due to the influence of president José María Reina Barrios. On a trip to Paris, he saw the latest examples of city beautification and urban planning, and when he returned to Guatemala, he began to renovate public spaces, including installing sidewalks, something that had not existed before in the country.
The space where this water cistern and pila was built was the Plaza de San José, an open area slightly removed from the city center and the central plaza. The tank’s inauguration was held on February 3rd, 1853.
The water tank’s name (and thus the name of the park surrounding it) comes from a commemoration of the victory of the Battle of La Arada in 1851 by Guatemalan president and general Rafael Carrera against the combined El Salvador/Honduras army, which prevented the splitting up of Guatemala. Around 1925, a Central American Unionist Congress was held in Guatemala, and at one point a visit was made here to commemorate the battle. The name of the Plaza de San José was changed to Parque La Unión in remembrance of the preservation of the country’s union.
Today, you can stroll the park’s walkways or just sit on the grass or one of its many benches to enjoy the beautiful, peaceful, and historic atmosphere of this storied place.