SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

November 22, 2013

Benton: Visiting the past

ABOARD THE ISLAND PRINCESS — As I write this, I’m on a ship off the coast of Central America.

Our first landfall after leaving L.A. was Puerto Quetzal on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. While those of us from the North Shore tend to think of Roger Conant and his followers as being among the first European settlers of the American continent, there were others here much earlier.

High up in the mountains of Guatemala, surrounded by volcanoes, is the city of Antigua.

Home to many spectacular churches, this was the political, religious and educational center of a Spanish colony founded almost a century before Jamestown, Plymouth and Salem. Its yellow-and-white Iglesia La Merced, built in the Catholic Baroque style, dates back to 1543.

Still standing near the central plaza are the city hall and former headquarters of the provincial government built in what is now referred to as the “anti-seismic” colonial style favored after a series of earthquakes devastated the community in the early 18th century. (The provincial authorities departed for nearby Guatemala City shortly thereafter, but the abundance of ancient churches, monuments and government buildings won Antigua designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, and it is today a centerpiece of the country’s nascent tourist industry.)

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Like Salem, Puerto Quetzal is still in the early stages of marketing itself as a cruise destination. But also like Salem, the port city realizes that its future cannot rely on tourism alone and has installed the infrastructure to make itself one of the largest container-shipment facilities on the western coast of Central America.

Similarly, the Driscoll administration and Salem Partnership, while working hard to attract the cruise industry to Salem, see a working waterfront as essential to the city’s continued prosperity. And while environmental extremists across the harbor in Marblehead, and their allies at the Statehouse, might not like it, this requires continued energy production at the power-plant site on Fort Avenue.

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