Monthly Archives: February 2013

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

Posted by on February 22, 2013

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.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #194: Maya Site of Copan

Posted by on February 21, 2013

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.

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

UNESCO World Heritage Site #193: Joya de Ceren

Posted by on February 20, 2013

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.

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

Monday Travel Update – Guat I’m Doing in Central America

Posted by on February 18, 2013

Ruins of Tikal

Ruins of Tikal

Greetings from the shore of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. The last week has been busy to put it mildly.

I’m on my first G Adventure tour of the year: Mayan Ruins & Culture. Since I checked in last week in San Salvador, me and my group have:

  • Spent two nights in the quaint village of Suchitoto, El Salvador
  • Visited the archeological site of Joya de Ceren in El Salvador. The Pompeii of the Americas.
  • Visited the ruins of Copan in Honduras.
  • Visited the Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua in Guatemala.
  • Spent the morning in the amazing Tikal National Park in Guatemala.
  • Spent an evening on the peaceful Rio Dulce river in Guatemala.

(more…)