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Quetzaltenango is the name of a department in Guatemala, as well as the name of the largest city in the department.

The City of Quetzaltenango has long been the second most populous of Guatemala, after Guatemala City. In 2000 it had an estimated population of 250,000. The population is about 50% indigenous or Indian, 49% Mestizo, and 1% other. Quetzaltenango is located in a mountain valley at an altitude of 2,333 meters (8,000 feet) above sea level.


In Pre-Columbian times Quetzaltenango was a city of the Mam Maya people called Xelajú, the name derived from "Xe laju' noj" meaning "place beside 10 mountains". The city was said to already be over 300 years old when the Spanish first arrived. Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado defeated and killed Maya king Tecún Umán here. When Alvarado conquered the city for Spain in the 1520s, he called it by the Nahuatl name used by his Central Mexican Indian allies, "Quetzaltenango", or "the place of the Quetzal bird", which became the city's official name in colonial times. However many people (especially but not only the indigenous population) continue to call the city "Xelajú" or more commonly Xela for short.

From 1838 to 1840 Quetzaltenango was capital of the state of Los Altos, one of the states or provinces of the United States of Central America. As the union broke up the army of Guatemala under Rafael Carrera conquered Quetzaltenango making it again part of Guatemala.

In the 19th century coffee was introduced as a major crop in the area, and the economy of Xela prospered, and much fine Belle Epoque architecture can still be found in the city.

Views of buildings flanking the Central Park Square, Quetzaltenango

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