Belize – Heart of the Maya
Belize has highest concentration of Maya sites among all Central American countries and quite fairly is often referred to as the “Heart of the Maya”. To truly appreciate the exquisiteness of the Maya sites, you need to appreciate the beauty of the culture of the Maya people. Belize’s ancient history is just an extension of history of the Maya people. The Maya were present in Belize prior to the first millennium.
Brutal Spanish Conquest in 1524 led to the suppression of Maya people and could have even shattered the Maya culture but the Maya spirit was virtually indestructible and has endured. It is the unending desire to protect and preserve rich Mayan cultural heritage that motivated Belize and its Central American neighbours Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to establish Mundo Maya in the late 1980’s. The countries now work collectively to create programs that help preserve and promote the legacy of one of the greatest civilizations of all time.
History of the Maya in Belize
It is believed that a 1000 years prior to Europeans arriving on the shores of Belize, a million Maya resided within its modern borders. In fact, the Maya culture and civilization in Belize dates back to as early as 1500 B.C., and reached its pinnacle between 300 and 900 A.D. The Maya’s contributions to society as well as modern day Belize are innumerable from exquisitely designed and engineered buildings, to the development of the modern calendar, and even to the evolution of the written language.
The sheer splendour of Maya accomplishments can be observed at any one of the many ceremonial sites and temples dotting the Belize landscape. Only a limited number of the sites have been restored; most of the 1000s of ancient Maya sites have been left in almost the same condition in which they were found. More and more areas are discovered each year, and it is not at all uncommon to discover artifacts anywhere within the country.
Maya Sites in Belize
Among the most famed sites found in Belize are Caracol, Altun Ha, Xunantunich, La Milpa, and Lamanai. Each is unique in itself, and each discloses different aspect of this mystical culture. Caracol (The Snail) is the largest of Belize’s Maya sites. Positioned in the rugged backcountry of Cayo District of Belize, it can be easily reached by car through a vivid drive through the Chiquibul Rainforest. “Caana” (Sky Place) that rises 140 feet from its base is the largest pyramid in Caracol. It is regarded as a major Maya ceremonial center. Excavation and renovation is currently on at Caracol.
Xunantunich (Maiden of the Rock) is one of the most easily accessible ancient Maya sites located in Belize. It is believed that it was a major ceremonial center during the Classic Period. Altun Ha (Water of the Rock) is believed to be a major coastal trade center of Mayan era. La Milpa, yet another alleged ceremonial center is the third largest site in Belize. Lamanai (Submerged Crocodile) situated on the New River Lagoon is one of the largest alleged ceremonial centers.