The Mayan Legacy in Belize: 4 Archaeological Sites to Discover

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A veritable Babel of the Tropics, Belize is certainly small in size but large in its cultural and ethnic diversity. The Belizean population forms a veritable mosaic of cultures that makes the country rich.

The Mayan communities, still present on the mainland, constitute an important ethnic group in Belize. Rich in a thousand-year-old culture, the Mayas have left behind them an invaluable heritage. More confidential but just as important as their Guatemalan or Mexican neighbours, the ancient Mayan cities of Belize are today the vestiges of a civilization that still hides many mysteries. From Cerros in the north to Lubaatun in the south, via Altun Ha and Caracol, these archaeological sites are real diamonds in the rough to discover.

Cerros: the archaeological site on the Mexican border

The only Maya site bordering the coast of Belize, the ruins of Cerros are near the town of Corozal, in the north of the country. Cerros was a small port which developed in the year 50 BC. J.-C., until its decline around the year 150. Three main buildings make up the site. The tallest structure 21 meters high and offer a panoramic view of the bay of Chetumal. The best-known temple of Cerros is adorned with painted stucco masks representing the rising and setting sun. The inhabitants of this city lived mainly from fishing and agriculture. They built ingenious channel systems in order to control floods, transport goods and equipment of all kinds to serve agricultural production.

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Altun Ha: place of discovery of the head of jade

Altun ha is the nearest archaeological site to Belize City (about 30km). He is one of Belize’s major ceremonial sites and his name means ” the pond rock in Yucatec Maya. At its peak, the city was part of the Tikal confederation and served as a trading link between the coast and the interior. Altun Ha is particularly known for being the place of discovery of more 300 jade items the most important of which is the jade head of Altun Ha. This crown jewel of Belize stands 14.9cm tall and weighs almost 5kg. The sculpture representing the Mayan Sun God Kinich Ahau lies at the heart of the Temple of the “Masonry Altars”. A replica is on display at the Central Bank of Belize and his portrait appears as a watermark on all the Belizean currencies.

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Caracol: the rival city of Tikal

The ancient Mayan city of Caracol was one of the most important of its time. Located in the heart of Cayo District’s Chiquibul Nature Reserveit covers an area of ​​more than 10,000 hectares. Caracol is one of the best preserved Maya sites in Belize. Its main temple of more than 43 meters high offers incredible views on the surrounding jungle. Thanks to excellent acoustics, the speakers could be heard very easily by the crowds distributed in the main square. Caracol was also a major player in geopolitics during the recent classical period (VI and VII centuries). She counted at her peak 100,000 inhabitants and was involved in several conflicts, notably as an ally of the city of Calakmul, in Campeche, Mexico, against that of Tikal, in Guatemala. Caracol is a staple of Mayan heritage in Belize.

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Lubaantun: heading to the south of Belize

Lubaantun is located near the Mayan village of San Pedro Columbia just 20 km from Punta Gordathe main city of district of Toledo. This ancient Mayan city flourished for more than 150 years, from the year 700 to 850 approximately and is now the most important site in southern Belize. It is composed of 14 structures grouped together around five main squares. The construction of the Lubaantun site is unique in that no mortar was used. Indeed, each stone was carefully selected then measured and cut to adapt to its neighbour. Lubaatun benefits from particularly fertile soils which have been used for the cocoa production.

In 1944, the adventurer Mitchell-Hedges claimed to have discovered a mysterious crystal skull in 1924, when he was excavating the ruins of the city, an object which he would then have sold. No evidence has been able to confirm the facts so far. The story will at least have had the merit of inspiring the story of adventure films such as by Indiana Jones.

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Find all the Mayan sites of Belize on the Travel Belize website.
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