This is a picture of the cathedral in Santa Ana.
I only spent a couple days in there, but I was immediately charmed and decided that if I ever come live in El Salvador for an extended period of time, I would seriously consider Santa Ana as an option.
Because honestly, I hate San Salvador. What´s to like? It´s dirty, dangerous, ugly, expensive and an all-around disappointment. From a planning perspective, it just depresses me. I see no hope for it as a city at all. From a health perspective, it would probably take years off my life because of the horrible air (I´ve never actually lived in a city with terrible air quality before – it´s amazing how noticeable it is, and it´s amazing how people think they´re used to it) and because of the stress that comes from crossing the street and other pedestrian (hah) tasks.
Santa Ana was quieter. There is a definite city center with a park in the middle surrounded by the cathedral, the theater, and the government (which is typical of small towns in El Salvador). There´s a 3-4 block radius of markets and stuff leaving the center, then there´s a good amount of residential streets that are really narrow and…quiet. Not many cars, not even many people walking. And the houses look very colonial and pretty and the city is a grid, and it´s a city but it doesn´t really feel like one. There are lots of universities, and a good amount of visible organizing happening – the day I left, I stumbled upon a collective fair. It was mostly artisan collectives and credit unions – but hey! artisan collectives and credit unions! That´s what I like to see.
I don´t like to see corporate development and sprawl happening outside the older sections. So I chose not to.
Mostly I was dazzled by the cathedral. I´m not usually a sucker for churches, but this one was magnificent. The MOST magnificent. And, okay, yeah, I´ve never been to Europe so I should probably shut up about beautiful old churches…But wow. I did get a picture of the whole thing, but I thought a more detailed picture of only part of it does it more justice.
I think that I liked it so much because of the context. *Architecture always loses something when it doesn´t have good context, which is why I haven´t been too impressed with a lot of the churches here so far, or in Mexico, for that matter, where they´re More Famous And Important (as all things Mexican are…and yes. That is resentment you are sensing). Usually cathedrals are kept as relics and more modern cities develop around them and tourists visit them and people sell things at them and this all makes that presence they´re supposed to have go away. But because Santa Ana is so quiet and unassuming and has no skyscrapers or tourists and looks a lot like what it probably looked like 100 years ago, I really felt like the cathedral made the city more beautiful, and the city made the cathedral more beautiful.
*And yes, thank you, I am fully aware of choosing this picture while making this point.
/Urban planning nerdfest.