In Praise of Spontaneous Travel

You seriously don’t have a hotel room booked?
I am writing this in Warsaw, Poland.

That in and of itself isn’t that impressive. Many people visit Poland every year.

What makes this special is that up until a few days ago, I had no idea I was going to be in Poland. In fact, until yesterday, I had no idea I was going to spend the night in Warsaw.

My original plan was to fly to Germany early for the ITB conference and just hang out in Berlin for a week while I waited for it to start. I realized that Berlin wasn’t far from Poland, taking the train was very easy and I had never been to Poland before. Even factoring in the cost of a train ticket, I’d probably save money by staying in Poland rather than in Berlin.

So I decided to go to Poland.
Continue reading “In Praise of Spontaneous Travel”

UNESCO World Heritage Site #198: Historic Centre of Warsaw

UNESCO World Heritage Site #198: Historic Centre of Warsaw
UNESCO World Heritage Site #198: Historic Centre of Warsaw

From the World Heritage inscription:

Warsaw was deliberately annihilated in 1944 as a repression of the Polish resistance to the German occupation. The capital city was reduced to ruins with the intention of obliterating the centuries-old tradition of Polish statehood. The rebuilding of the historic city, 85% of which was destroyed, was the result of the determination of the inhabitants and the support of the whole nation. The reconstruction of the Old Town in its historic urban and architectural form was the manifestation of the care and attention taken to assure the survival of one of the most important testimonials of Polish culture. The city – the symbol of elective authority and tolerance, where the first democratic European constitution, the Constitution of 3 May 1791, was adopted – was rebuilt. The reconstruction included the holistic recreation of the urban plan, together with the Old Town Market, the town houses, the circuit of the city walls, as well as the Royal Castle and important religious buildings. The reconstruction of Warsaw’s historical centre was a major contributor to the changes in the doctrines related to urbanisation and conservation of urban development in most of the European countries after the destruction of World War II. Simultaneously, this example illustrates the effectiveness of conservation activities in the second half of the 20th Century, which permitted the integral reconstruction of the complex urban ensemble.

There are many European capital city centers which have been inscribed on the world heritage list: Paris, Rome, Budapest and Prague are just a few. All of those sites have been inscribed based on the history value of the buildings in the city.

Warsaw is different, however. This old city of Warsaw was almost totally annihilated during WWII. There is very little left which is of original historic importance.

Warsaw has been inscribed because of its reconstruction.

I’d be willing to bet that thousands of people visit the old city of Warsaw every year and have no idea that the buildings were all built after WWII. You have to really pay attention to see that the construction techniques used are very different than those you see in Prague (which was relatively untouched by WWII).

Overview

Historic Center of Warsaw

The Historic Center of Warsaw is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Poland. This urban landscape is recognized by UNESCO in 1980. This city center underwent a near total reconstruction from the 13th to the 20th centuries. Prior to it being named by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, it was deferred two times in 1978 and 1979.

The Historic Center of Warsaw experienced tremendous damage during the Second World War, particularly in 1944. The war resulted in up to 85% of the city in destruction. This included the Royal Castle and the Old Town. Hence, a reconstruction campaign was established post-World War II in an effort to rebuild the city and its important monuments.

About Historic Center of Warsaw

Historic Center of Warsaw

The UNESCO World Heritage Site in Warsaw is an exception in the list of cultural sites. It is the only urban landscape area that was completely reconstructed. The level of work and reconstruction done was so impressive that the UNESCO committee could not help but demonstrate appreciation for how it’s done. This was important to restoring the historic value of the city.

The city of Warsaw is not only the capital city of Poland. It is also the educational, scientific, cultural, and tourist center in the country. The Historic Town of Warsaw is where the small medieval settlement is located in. These settlements were mostly built in the 14th century. During this time, Warsaw was rapidly growing and the first brick houses were built. Along with the brick houses, the defensive walls were also built. The Old Town is also reshaped and it is connected to the New Town.

Despite the great development of the old town, it was not immune from the destruction of World War II. With the historic town nearly completely destroyed, the architects and conservators worked together to reconstruct the city and its monuments. The reconstructed was successfully done since the paintings and drawings by Canaletto, along with other historic documentations for the Historic Center of Warsaw, were used as basis for the reconstruction job. In fact, tourists won’t be able to distinguish the original historic buildings from the newly reconstructed ones. Exploring the Old Town will lead to one of its primary attractions: the Market Square.

Historic Center of Warsaw

The Royal Castle is one of the highlights in the Historic Center of Warsaw (you will learn about the others below). It is filled with national mementos and treasures that would excite any history or culture buff. The interior itself is worth visiting the castle for. It features beautiful decoration and houses the finest works from many European and Polish artists. Another popular destination in the historic center is Krakowskie Przedmie?cie Street.

Major tourist attractions at the historic center of Warsaw include the following:

  • Historical Museum of Warsaw
  • Museum of Literature
  • Old Town House of Culture
  • Old Gunpowder Depot Theatre
  • Zapiecek
  • St. John’s Cathedral
  • Royal Castle

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Poland.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #197: Antigua Guatemala

UNESCO World Heritage Site #197: Antigua Guatemala
UNESCO World Heritage Site #197: Antigua Guatemala

From the World Heritage inscription:

Antigua Guatemala is an outstanding example of preserved colonial architecture and of cultural value. The religious, private and government buildings bear exceptional testimony to the Spanish colonial architecture in Antigua.

Built 1,500 m above sea level in an earthquake-prone region, Antigua, the capital of the Captaincy-General of Guatemala, was founded in the early 16th century as Santiago de Guatemala. The conquerors chose this location as the previous capital had flooded in 1541 and the valley provided an adequate source of water and a fertile soil. Antigua Guatemala was the seat of Spanish colonial government for the Kingdom of Guatemala, which included Chiapas (southern Mexico), Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. It was the cultural, economic, religious, political and educational centre for the entire region until the capital was moved to present-day Guatemala City after the damaging earthquakes of 1773, but its principal monuments are still preserved as ruins. In the space of under three centuries the city, which was built on a grid pattern inspired by the Italian Renaissance, acquired a number of superb monuments.

Antigua might be the most charming city in Central America.

The former capital of Guatemala (antigua means ‘old’ in Spanish), Antigua was abandoned for Guatemala City because the area was earthquake prone.

Among the many Spanish colonial buildings are several ruined churches which were destroyed by earthquake and never rebuilt. In particular, the cathedral which you see today (shown in photo) is only a fraction of the size of the original building. If you go to the back of the structure you can see the remains of the original cathedral.

Antigua is an hour drive from the Guatemala City airport and one of the top attractions in Guatemala.

Overview

Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is a municipality in Guatemala with a population of about less than 50,000 people. This site was inscribed by UNESCO in 1979 during its third session. The city is noted as a cultural gem in South America for its rare beauty, vibrant culture, and the historical significance. All of these factors combine to making Antigua Guatemala not only worthy of a UNESCO listing for its cultural significance, but also as a popular tourist destination.

This city was once the capital of Guatemala. Even though it is no longer the capital, one thing is undeniable: the number of colonial relics at the site and the beautiful streetscape makes it one of the most outstanding cities in the Americas.

About Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala

The city of Antigua Guatemala was founded in the early 16th century. This city is located 1,500 meters above sea level. The area where the city was built on is prone to earthquakes. In fact, a massive earthquake that hit the city in 1773 destroyed plenty of the features and structures in the city. The city has proven its resilience by the fact that many of these important colonial architectural features and structures have been preserved until today.

When the city was founded in 1524, it was named as Santiago de Guatemala. Aside from the earthquake, the city has also survived an uprising by the indigenous people who tried to destroy by lighting it up on fire. Three years after it was founded, the entire city had to be re-built. Due to the threat of destruction and earthquakes, this has prompted the government to re-locate the capital city to Guatemala City.

For many centuries though, Antigua Guatemala served as the economic, political, educational, cultural, and religious center of Guatemala. This only changed when the capital was moved. Within the three centuries that it was the capital, there were a number of superb monuments that were erected all throughout the city, which can now be commemorated to provide a glimpse of the city’s rich history.

Antigua Guatemala

Aside from its vibrant history and rich culture, the showcase of the typical grid north-south and west-west layout of streets is also an example of Latin American town planning influences in Antigua Guatemala. There are several remains and ruins from the 16th century city, although majority of what was left in the city were built sometime in the 17th and 18th centuries. These buildings also showcase the extent of the colonial architectural style in the town’s planning and development. Certain architectural details such as decorative stucco (both interior and exterior ornamentation), central window niche, carved tympanum, low bell towers, and massive buildings are all important features that signify colonial architecture.

The city of Antigua Guatemala also features several notable buildings such as Palace of the Captains General, Las Capuchinas, Santa Clara, Universidad de San Carlos, Casa de la Moneda, La Merced, and more.


View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #196: Tikal National Park

UNESCO World Heritage Site #196: Tikal National Park
UNESCO World Heritage Site #196: Tikal National Park

From the World Heritage inscription:

Together with Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve, Maya is the most important reserve in the country, because of its archaeological and bio/ecological interest. Rivers, lakes, swamps and flooding savannas are important for biodiversity and for migratory birds. The reserve contains the largest area of tropical rainforest in Guatemala and Central America, with a wide range of unspoilt natural habitats. A large area of the reserve still comprises dense broadleaved forests with more than 300 species of commercially useful trees, such as cedar, mahogany, ramon (bread-nut tree), Araceae
(osier for furniture), chicle, pepper and others.

In the heart of this jungle, surrounded by lush vegetation, lies one of the major sites of the Mayan civilization. The ceremonial centre contains superb temples and palaces, and public squares accessed by means of ramps. Remains of dwellings are scattered throughout the surrounding countryside. The ruined city reflects the cultural evolution of Mayan society from hunter- gathering to farming, with an elaborate religious, artistic and scientific culture which finally collapsed in the late 9th century. At its height, AD 700-800, the city supported a population of 90,000 Mayan Indians. There are over 3,000 separate buildings dating from 600 BC to AD 900, including temples, residences, religious monuments decorated with hieroglyphic inscriptions and tombs. Excavations have yielded remains of cotton, tobacco, beans, pumpkins, peppers and many fruits of pre-Columbian origin. Large areas are still to be excavated.

When I mentally categorize world heritage sites I visit, one of the ways I segregate them in my mind is between major and minor sites. I’d estimate that 90% of the sites I visit are minor, with 10% being major. The major sites are the ones that most people know of: The Pyramids, The Grand Canyon, The Great Wall, etc.

I’d easily categorize Tikal as one of the most significant heritage sites in the world. Easily a top 100 attraction.

Not only is it perhaps the most important Mayan site in the world, but it is an important biosphere reserve as well. In the hours I spent at Tikal I saw monkeys, heard howler monkeys and many different and colorful species of birds.

The importance of Tikal can be seen on the Guatemalan license plates and currency, both of which carry and image of temple #1 from Tikal.

I highly recommend a visit to Tikal if you are in the region (Southern Mexico/Belize/Guatemala). I considered it to be on a par with Angkor in Cambodia and one of the top destinations for archeological ruins in the Western Hemisphere.

Overview

Tikal National Park

Tikal National Park is a mixed category UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was inscribed in 1979 and is part of Guatemala within the Peten Basin. This archaeological site is part of the Mayan civilization and has been dated back to the Early Classic to Late Classic period.

This national park consists of ruins from an ancient city in the middle of a rainforest in Guatemala. It is considered as one of the largest archaeological sites from the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. It served as the former capital of a conquest state that was among the civilization’s most powerful kingdoms from the ancient times.

About Tikal National Park

Tikal National Park

Tikal National Park encompasses a land area measuring 575 square kilometers. It is located at the heart of the Guatemalan rainforest, wherein its remoteness has also contributed to its incredible state of preservation. It consists of thousands of ruins of structures and buildings from the ancient Maya civilization. Within the central part of the ancient city alone, there are over 3,000 buildings within a 16 square kilometer land area. For this reason, Tikal National Park is considered as the largest excavated site in the American continent. It is also the most popular cultural and natural preserve in Guatemala.

According to the studies done on the archaeological ruins, experts can estimate that the area wherein the national park is built in was established around 900 BC. Since its establishment, it developed into an important cultural, commercial, and ceremonial center and it went on being that way for many centuries. Some of the large temples at the park were built in the 8th century AD. During this time, the ancient city had about 100,000 in population and it was the greatest city in the Maya civilization.

Tikal National Park

The temples and complexes in Tikal, as with the Mayan temples in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, suffered a decline by the end of the 9th century. From its height to power, it quickly became abandoned. There were many theories as to what caused the collapse of the Maya civilization at Tikal National Park. Many archaeological experts trace it to wars, famine, and resource depletion (partly due to overpopulation).

The temples and various structures that form the archaeological complex of what is now known as the Tikal National Park languished for several centuries. Eventually, they were reclaimed by the jungle after many years of abandonment. In 1525, the great conqueror of Mexico Hernan Cortes stumbled upon these temples but they were unrecognizable as most of the temples and structures were covered in cedar, silk, and mahogany trees. The ruins were officially discovered in 1848 when an expedition team stumbled upon the ruins. From the 1950s to the 1960s, there was a collaborative effort between the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania and Guatemalan Institute of Anthropology and History to restore the archaeological fins and ruins at Tikal National Park. The archaeological park has since been considered a national symbol of Guatemala, same with the status of the Great Pyramids in Egypt.

To this day, enormous trees still surround the great temples and plazas consisting of multiple structures and buildings. Aside from the great plazas and temples, there were also other types of structures that were uncovered such as tombs, stelaes, and huge stone masks.


View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Guatemala.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #195: Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua

UNESCO World Heritage Site #195: Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua
UNESCO World Heritage Site #195: Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua

From the World Heritage inscription:

The ruins of Quirigua retain an impressive series of stelae and sculpted calendars, partially deciphered, which constitute a remarkable and unique source of the history of the social, political and economic events of the Mayan civilization. The zoomorphic and anthropomorphic sculptures are among the most attractive pre-Columbian works known.

Quirigua is, together with that of Copán (Honduras), one of the major testimonies to the Mayan civilization. At Quirigua, traces of human occupation are attested to from about AD 200, but the zenith of the city may be placed during the period known as Late Classic, about AD 600-900.

Inhabited since the 2nd century AD, Quirigua had become during the reign of Cauac Sky (723-84), the first sovereign of the historic period who has been identified with certainty, the capital of an autonomous and prosperous state. The extraction of jade and obsidian in the upper valley of the Rio Motagua, which was tightly controlled, gave rise to a profitable goods trade with the coastal ports of the Caribbean. This monopoly remained in existence during the 9th century.

Quirigua isn’t the most sexy of Mayan ruins. It is significantly smaller than most sites like Tikal, Copan, or Coba. What buildings are left are not that large and it lacks the awe inspiring pyramids of a Chichen Itza.

What it does have is perhaps the best collection of intact Mayan stelle in the world. Not only are the stelle in relatively good condition, but they are also the largest stelle in the world. In fact, they are the largest pre-Columbia stone sculptures in the Americas.

Quirigua is often considered a companion to Copan in Honduras. If you are visiting Copan, a trip to Quirigua only takes about 1-2 hours, depending on time at the border and traffic. The entire site can be explored in about an hour.

Overview

Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua

The Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Guatemala. It was added under the Cultural category in 1981. The ruins and the archaeological park belong to the Mayan civilization and are dated back to the late Pre-classic to the Early Post-classic period. This site features an ancient Mayan site that was constructed during the time of Cauac Sky’s rule. It is also noted for the 8th century monuments that were found in the area.

Quirigua is an archaeological and pre-Columbian site located near Motagua River in Guatemala. These monuments are recognized for their cultural significance as these sites reflect a time of wealth and prosperity for the rules from the Mayan Empire.

About the Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua

Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua

The Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua is what is left of a civilization that saw rapid expansion during the 8th century. Quirigua flourished after the military victory over the King of Copan in 738. After the defeat, the Great King of Copan was sacrificed at the Great Plaza in Quirigua. Since then, Quirigua maintained its independence and they developed a wide range of monuments to celebrate their new status and power. Even though the ceremonial architecture in Quirigua are modest as compared to the other Mayan monuments, the cultural importance of these sites lies in its ability to echo the wealth of Quirigua at that time.

If you see any similarity with the architecture and monuments from Copan, it is because the monuments found within the Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua are modeled after it. Following the defeat of the King of Copan, Quirigua built its own palace, acropolis and ball courts. The ceremonial center is laid out such that it is surrounded by three plazas. The Great Plaza is located in the northernmost area and measures 325 meters from north to south. It is also the largest plaza of its kind from the Mayan civilization. The next one is the Acropolis Plaza, which is fully enclosed. Lastly, the Ballcourt Plaza is the last of the three plazas.

On top of these plazas, Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua are also known for its many monuments. In fact, the site consists of the tallest stone monuments that were ever constructed from the time of the New World. The carved stelae and sculpted calendars, to be specific, were crucial to the study of the Mayan civilization. It is believed that these tall monuments called stelae were visible from the Motagua River. Aside from the height and structure itself, the full-figure hieroglyphs and the texts contained in them were also notable. These are believed to be one of the most elaborate stone inscriptions from the Mayan civilization. These inscriptions feature carved representiations of deitis and mythological animals.

Conservation Challenges

Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua

The conservation efforts for the Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua have been met with many challenges. The area is located within seismic zone and is constantly exposed to harsh environmental conditions such as storms and hurricanes. The illegal logging activity is also causing a threat to the protected area. In fact, it has indirectly caused vulnerability to the protected area by increasing the chances of flooding by up to 70 percent. In fact, the park was temporarily closed after a tropical storm hit it in May 2010.

Hence, the Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua was included in the list of World Monuments that require more attention in terms of planning and protection.


View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #194: Maya Site of Copan

UNESCO World Heritage Site #194: Maya Site of Copan
UNESCO World Heritage Site #194: Maya Site of Copan

From the World Heritage inscription:

Copán with its temples, plazas and terraces, comprises a type of architectural complex among the most characteristic of the Mayan civilization. The lengthy inscription on the Hieroglyphic Stairway Plaza is of considerable historical significance

The Mayan city of Copán as it exists today is composed of a main complex of ruins with several secondary complexes encircling it. The main complex consists of the Acropolis and important plazas. Among the five plazas are the Ceremonial Plaza, with an impressive stadium opening onto a mound with numerous richly sculptured monoliths and altars; the Hieroglyphic Stairway Plaza, with a monumental stairway at its eastern end that is one of the outstanding structures of Mayan culture. On the risers of this 100 m wide stairway are more than 1,800 individual glyphs which constitute the longest known Mayan inscription. The Easter Plaza rises a considerable height above the valley floor. On its western side is a stairway sculptured with figures of jaguars originally inlaid with black obsidian.

From what is known today, the sculpture of Copán appears to have attained a high degree of perfection. The Acropolis, a magnificent architectural complex, appears today as a large mass of rubble which came about through successive additions of pyramids, terraces and temples. The world’s largest archaeological cut runs through the Acropolis. In the walls of the cut, it is possible to distinguish floor levels of previous plazas and covered water outlets.

Copan is undoubtedly one of the most significant Mayan sites in Mesoamerica and most important cultural site in all of Honduras.

While not as large as other Mayan sites such as Tikal, it is reasonably large in its own right and also has one of the best collections of Mayan stelae in the world. The quality and detail which can still be seen in the stones can be found in few other places.

The site is situated only 15 km from the Guatemalan border which makes it easy to visit if you are visiting other sites in the region. Tours and transportation can easily be had from the city of Copan Ruinas.

Given the size of the site, you might want to dedicate 3-4 hours to explore the ruins. There is also a museum on site which can be entered for an additional fee.

Overview

Maya Site of Copan

The Maya Site of Copan is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Honduras. It was inscribed in 1980 and is a pre-Columbian ruins. This is one of the most valuable sites from the Mayan Civilization and was dated back to the Classic era, which is around 5th to 9th century AD. The site was already abandoned by the year 900.

The site features a main Mayan complex that is made up of an acropolis. There are also five plazas, temples, altar complexes, and courts that make up the Maya Site of Copan.

About the Maya Site of Copan

Maya Site of Copan

The Maya Site of Copan is considered as one of the most spectacular cities to come out of the Mayan civilization. This is a ruin complex that is estimated by archaeologists to have been built from 400 and 800 AD. This site has been known since early 19th century but excavations only begun in 1975. To this day, the excavations are still ongoing at the site in an effort to understand the mystery behind this lost city.

The research studies have shown that the Maya Site of Copan was abandoned after it suffered from instability in 800 AD. The constant droughts had caused destruction to the vital crops in the area. At this point, the population in the area also experienced exponential growth. The dwindling resources can therefore unable to keep up with the growing number of population. For this reason, the city became abandoned by the residents. To this day, little is known about the rulers of the old city of Copan.

Tips for Visitors

Maya Site of Copan

If you want to visit the Maya Site of Copan, here are some practical information you might need:

  • To visit the Maya Site of Copan, you must travel 1 km from the east of the town of Copan Ruinas. It is located about 60 km from the Guatemalan border.
  • The entire complex of Mayan ruins in Copan consists of 4,500 structures across 24 square kilometers in land area. This is divided into two areas: the “Principal Group” of the Mayan complex are for the nobles while the second area, Las Sepulturas, are for the residential complex.
  • When you explore the ruins, you will also get a chance to have wild encounters with the native animal species that roam among the ruins.
  • To visit the Maya Site of Copan, you need to pay a ticket for $15. This will give you access to Copan, Las Sepulturas, and the Mayan Museum.
  • The ruins are open daily from 8 AM to 4 PM.
  • Since Honduras features a hot tropical climate, it is recommended that you visit early in the morning to avoid the heat.
  • The key structures or areas within the Maya Site of Copan are as follows: The Acropolis, The Great Plaza, Stelaes, The Hieroglyphic Stairway, The Tunnels, Las Sepulturas, and the Copan Sculpture Museum.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites that I have visited.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #193: Joya de Ceren

UNESCO World Heritage Site #193: Joya de Ceren
UNESCO World Heritage Site #193: Joya de Ceren

From the World Heritage inscription:

Joya de Cerén is remarkable by virtue of the completeness of the evidence that it provides of everyday life in a Mesoamerican farming community of the 6th century AD, which is without parallel in this cultural region. It was a pre-Hispanic farming community that, like Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy, was buried under a volcanic eruption about AD 590. Although a warning earthquake apparently gave residents time to flee, the ash preserved their personal belongings, from garden tools and bean-filled pots to sleeping mats and religious items, essentially freezing the agricultural village in time. Because of the exceptional condition of the remains, they provide an insight into the daily lives of the Central American peoples who worked the land at that time.

I have visited several archeological/paleontological world heritage sites around the world. While most of them are of great scientific import, they usually make for very poor tourist attractions. The reason why the locations are important is because of artifacts long since dug out of the ground and put in museums. You almost never are able to see one of the actual dig sites and the best you can hope for is to visit a museum. I have visted two sites like this previously: the Sangiran Early Man site in Indonesia and the Ban Chiang site in Thailand.

Joya de Ceren is superior to those sites in that you can seen the actually buildings which have been excavated.

While it is often called the Pompeii of the Americas, don’t visit Joya de Ceren expecting to have the same experience you would see at Pompeii. The site is much smaller (although an estimated 90% hasn’t been excavated yet) and the buildings are much less impressive. Also, all the structures are kept under an awning to protect the structures from the elements. This makes for less than stellar photography.

The site can easily be visited as a day trip from San Salvador. It is about an hour drive from the city center.

Overview

Joya de Ceren Archaeological Site

Joya de Ceren is an archaeological site recognized as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in El Salvador. This UNESCO site is focused on preserving the heritage of a pre-Columbian Maya farming village. This village was covered by volcanic layer of ash and in doing so has remarkably preserved the architectural, archaeological, and agricultural remains in the said village. For this same reason, the site has been easy for researchers to study since it is set in the same way as it did during the time when the village was still inhabited.

Due to the nature at which the village was preserved, it has earned the nickname of “Pompeii of the Americas”. This is in reference to the city of Pompeii, wherein the eruption of the volcano and its volcanic ash has preserved the entire village. This cultural site from the Mayan civilization was inscribed into the UNESCO list in 1993.

About Joya de Ceren

Joya de Ceren Archaeological Site

Joya de Ceren is a small farming village that was established during the 1200 BC. It is located on the southeastern edge of the Mayan civilization. During AD 200, the entire village was evacuated with the impending eruption of Ilopango volcano. Since the said eruption, the site was re-populated by AD 400. But this was not to be the last volcanic eruption in the area as another volcano, Loma Caldera, erupted in the year 590. This eruption was so immense that it covered the nearby village of Joya de Ceren in 14 years of volcanic ash.

Even though the villagers were able to flee their village in time before the eruption (this was verified by the fact that there were no bodies uncovered at the archaeological site), the village and their houses were buried in ash. Some of the archaeological artifacts that were retrieved at the Joya de Ceren archaeological site included ceramics, furniture, food items, and utensils. The low temperature of the ash and the fast ashfall had both contributed to its amazing state of preservation. About 4 to 8 meters thick of volcanic ash layers covered the entire village in a matter of hours!

The site was initially discovered in 1976 when a bulldozer tried to level the ground for a government project. A professor of anthropology from the University of Colorado at Boulder spearheaded the research into the area. The research and explorations at the site were conducted in 1978 and 1980. However, the exploration was momentarily stopped due to civil warfare. In 1988, the excavation of the site was resumed and has been ongoing since. From this period until today, there are about 70 buildings or structures that were uncovered at the site. Some of these structures include houses, storehouses, workshops, living quarters, communal sauna, and religious structures, etc.

Joya de Ceren Archaeological Site

Aside from these buildings, the paleoethnobotanical remains at the Joya de Ceren archaeological site are far more important. Just like many of the other remains, the low temperature from the ash also preserved the plant materials in the village.

This archaeological site has been crucial to the study of the daily life and settlement in the land during the time period prior to it being preserved by volcanic ash. At the same time, it is also looked at as a cultural symbol in El Salvador and how it showcases human development in the region.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in El Salvador.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites I’ve visited.