Guatemala Travel Planner - (Page 8)

El Mundo Maya Within Guatemala's borders lies the greatest assemblage of archaeological sites in Central America. And while important preHispanic discoveries have been made from the highlands to the coast, it is the northern district of El Peten-with thousands of sites, 80 considered major-that is indeed the "Cradle of Maya Civilization." Five centuries before the birth of Christ, the brilliant civilization of the Maya began to emerge. It grew into a vast network of powerful Maya city-states, flourishing mostly between AD 300 and 900. Introducing a complex writing system and measuring time by a calendar as precise as ours, the Maya also built grand cities in the tropical lowlands and jungles of Guatemala, as well as in neighboring Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico. Each Maya city revolved around a ceremonial center where theocratic rulers practiced a complex religion based on a host of gods, and held ceremonies that featured ball games and human sacrifices. Above all, kings and priests, artisans and farmers fashioned an inspiring treasury of architectural monuments: temple pyramids and palaces, often painted in bright primary colors. Scarcely a year goes by without the discovery of more sacred altars, royal tombs and hieroglyphic records carved in stone in the ancient land of the Maya. Part of the appeal of the Maya world is that its sites are often as intriguing for their wildlife as for their ancient mysteries. That is certainly true of the vast archaeological complex that sprawls across Tikal National Park, the first established in Central America. T ow er i ng T i k al With its plethora of palaces, altars, shrines and soaring temples, Tikal may be the 8 Gran Jaguar Temple at Tikal. premier excavation of the Maya world, one honored by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. For more than 1,000 years, the Maya built here, expanding the site until it covered a 22-sq.-mile area and in its heyday (AD 700) embraced some 50,000 residents. The Gran Plaza sits at the heart of the site, framed by the Central Acropolis and the North Acropolis, which alone has some 100 structures, many capped with towering roof-combs. The mighty Gran Jaguar Temple and Temple of the Masks face each other across the Gran Plaza, while not far away, Temple IV rises through the treetop canopy-at 230 ft., it's the tallest ancient building in the world. At the entrance to Tikal are the excellent Sculpture Museum, containing many of the finest of Tikal's carved monuments, and the Tikal Museum, displaying artifacts from years of excavation. B ey ond T i k al Uaxactun, 15 miles away, can be visited on a day trip from Tikal. The Early Classic site, a center for astronomers, has numerous structures, some bearing images of deities. Yaxha, a 1.5-hour drive from the unusual island town of Flores-airline gateway to and base for exploring El Peten-is a little-investigated site, although it is the third largest in Guatemala. Its ceremonial center is made up of more than 500 structures, dating mostly from the Late Classic period. Sitting hilltop overlooking two lakes, atop Temple 216 is the place to be at sunset. Multi-day excursions by 4WD and boat are required to visit the most southerly sites of Ceibal, Dos Pilas and Aguateca along the Rio La Pasion in the southwestern corner of El Peten. A new road from Flores now connects the El Peten province to the Caribbean Sea, and en-route is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Quirigua, known for its many finely sculpted stelae, some among the tallest in the Maya world. Nowadays, visitors to Quirigua often head overland to the Maya city-site of Copan, often called the "Athens of the Americas" and just across the border in Honduras. And with a new airport just opened near Copan Ruinas, air service (not yet scheduled) now makes Copan accessible by plane from Flores. The latest frontier in the Maya world discovery in El Peten takes place at El Mirador and Nakbe, neighboring ancient, jungle-bound sites close to the Mexican border. El Mirador is the largest known site in the ancient Maya world; carved stone monuments, nine large stucco masks, and a number of towering pyramids survive. Although restoration will be underway for many years, true adventure is the trek from Flores via 4WD vehicle, mule and on foot-roughly a 5-day adventure roundtrip; visitors can also charter a helicopter to the site. O th er C ultur al M y ster i es On the Pacific coast, gigantic heads and pot-bellied figures-made of basalt and left by an ancient, but somewhat mysterious civilization (600 BC), influenced by the Olmec culture of Mexico-are scattered about the square of the town of La Democracia; the Museo de Arqueologia offers its own collection of statues and exhibits many of the smaller Olmec pieces found in the region, including a jade mask. Five miles away, outside the town of Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa, archaeologists are still investigating stelae found in the fields around the El Baul sugar refinery, which has an outdoor exhibit of these giant stones, carved with jaguars and ballplayers wearing jaguar masks. They are thought to date to around the AD 600. Maya Timeline Early Pre-Classic...............2000-800 BC Middle Pre-Classic............800-300 BC Late Pre-Classic................300 BC-AD 250 Early Classic......................AD 250-600 Late Classic.......................AD 600-900 Early Post Classic..............AD 900-1200 Late Post-Classic..............AD 1200-1500

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Guatemala Travel Planner

A Colonial Heritage
The Living Maya of the Highlands
El Mundo Maya
Call of the Wild
An Appetite for the Arts
Land of Active Adventures
Tasting Guatemala
Festivals Galore
Marvelous Markets
Marvelous Markets

Guatemala Travel Planner