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||1. Abaj Takalik
3. Altar de los Sacrificios
5. Dos Pilas
6. El Mirador
7. El Naranjo
9. Kaminal Juyú
12. La Democracia
|13. Mixco Viejo
15. Piedras Negras
17. Río Azul
Takalik ( RESERVATION
Abaj Takalik means Still Stone. This site is important because
two contemporaneous yet different sculptural styles converged
here: the Izapa style and the Monte Alto style, or the Olmec and
Maya styles, respectively. This occurrence sheds great light on
the controversy of the rise of civilization in Central America.
The oldest date found until now is on Stela 2 and is from 350
Aguateca ( RESERVATION
The Aguateca ruins lie nine miles (14 km.) south of the town of
Sayaxché, and they can be reached by water unless the water
level is very low, in which case the shallow parts of the lake
can be waded. The stelae of Aguateca, especially Stela 2 (from
the late Classic period), are extraordinary, and so is the
Petexbatún Lagoon at the entrance of Aguateca.
Altar de los Sacrificios (
Altar de los Sacrificios is located west of Ceibal, very near
the Río Usumacinta River, on the Mexican border by Chiapas. In
spite of the small area it covers, in the 7th and 8th centuries
A.D. it had great importance because of its strategic position
on the trade routes. During this time most of the stelae were
carved, although one of them is dated 910 A.D., when the city
was already in decline.
Ceibal ( RESERVATION
The Ceibal stelae are some of the finest and best preserved of
the late Classic period, which is why Ceibal is known as The
Gallery of Maya Art. However, the cultural history of Ceibal is
represented in ceramics: clay vessels with painted figures of
men and women from the Guatemalan high plateau in the
mid-Preclassic period. Ceibal was occupied around 800 B.C.
(mid-Preclassic period) by founders of unknown origin, but they
probably came from the Olmec peoples in Mexico or from the
Dos Pilas ( RESERVATION
An archaeological site ten-and-a-half miles (17 km.) southwest
of the municipality of Sayaxché, in the department of Petén,
Dos Pilas was named after two adjacent springs in the form of
water tanks. It has been named an Archaeological Park and a
National Monument. Dos Pilas has 16 carved stelae, 19 altars, 19
panels, 14 miscellaneous stones, a hieroglyphic bench, and 4
hieroglyphic stairways. Bound prisoners, generally at the feet
of the ruler, is a common image. The most beautiful sculpture of
Dos Pilas is Panel 10, known as the Red Stela because it retains
red, blue, and yellow colored stucco. The site is best visited
in the dry season, because in winter the ground turns swampy.
El Mirador ( RESERVATION
Access to El Mirador, two-and-a-half miles (4 km.) from the
Mexican border, is made difficult by its great extension and
enormous structures. Considered one of the most important cities
of the late Preclassic period, it peaked between 400 B.C. and
100 A.D.. Its structure is impressive despite the state of the
ruins. Its constructions and size are the largest of any Maya
archaeological site. Excavations are currently taking place
El Naranjo ( RESERVATION
This site is small but not irrelevant because it is the gateway
to the spectacular northern part of El Petén as well as a
starting point for a México-Guatemala trip. El Naranjo lies 106
miles (170 km.) from Flores.
Iximché ( RESERVATION
This archaeological site was the location of the capital of the
ancient Cakchiquel Maya domain, in which the first capital of
the Kingdom of Goathemala was founded. In the municipality of
Tecpán Guatemala, twenty-five miles (34 km.) from
Chimaltenango, Iximché sits at the top of a fortified hill
surrounded by dry moats almost nine feet deep. The patio for
ball games is completely enclosed, which is common in many
places on the altiplano. Iximché is a little over a mile away
(2 km.) from Tecpán and 54 miles (87 km.), on the same road,
from a Huehuetenango.
Kaminal Juyú ( RESERVATION
Located in the area around Guatemala City, this was an important
city in the early Classic period (although today most of it has
been demolished). In addition to ordinary tombs, the site has a
great variety of early Classic period tombs beneath its
unpretentious pyramids. Lovely red-clay vessels, revealing
outside influences, are one example of ceramics found here.
Foreign styles are also discernible in some of the pyramids. No
extraordinary temples are present, but the openings in the roofs
indicate the buildings were roofed with straw. Kaminal Juyú is
distinguished by its incredible number of patios for ball games.
Archaeological excavations in the zone have made clear the
magnitude this city reached in the past. Today only some burial
mounds covered with sand remain, and they are used as leisure
Kinal ( RESERVATION
Twenty-five miles (40 km.) northeast of Uaxactún, this site
holds close to 45 structures, the tallest one ( Structure 42 )
with a height of 75 feet (23 m.). There is an Acropolis with
buildings that hold at least 12 patios of different levels
K'Umarcaaj ( RESERVATION
Also known as Utatlán, these ruins are located in the
department of El Quiché, only two-and-a-half miles (4 km.) from
the department capital, Santa Cruz del Quiché. Mentioned in the
Popol Vuh as an impressive, powerful city, today very little of
its structures remain, because it was systematically destroyed
by Pedro de Alvarado when he burned it in 1524.
La Democracia (
The site of La Democracia is situated in the de Escuintlá
department, on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. For many years
archaeologists believed the Olmecs, who thrived in the Gulf of
Mexico region, were the oldest American civilization. Today,
however, it has been demonstrated that the Olmecs descended from
a Mayan people, who have been called Pre-Olmecs. Unlike Olmec
sculptures, Pre-Olmec figures had only one side of their faces
carved. The Pre-Olmec civilization existed only in the Pacific
Mixco Viejo ( RESERVATION
The city-fortress of the Cakchiquel Maya domain (from 1250-1525,
late Postclassic epoch) is now an important archaeological site.
Located in the Chimaltenango department, the Mixco Viejo ruins,
intact until now, exhibit a series of pyramids, observatory
tumuli, and ball-game stadiums. Tombs have not been found, which
makes experts believe that the dead were cremated. This was
primarily a ceremonial center, but its most interesting
characteristic is the existence of two patios used for ball
games. The buildings and ceramics of Mixco Viejo appear to
belong to the same era, the late Postclassic. Until the16th
century, Mixco Viejo was the Maya capital of Pokomán. Today,
the original Pokomán language is spoken only in the towns of
Mixco and Chinautlá.
Nakún ( RESERVATION
The chief significance of this city in the middle of El Petén
is its size rather than its constructions and monuments,
although fifteen stelae dating from 771 to 810 to 849 B.C. were
found here. It is believed that Nakún was founded shortly
before the end of the Classic period.
Piedras Negras (
These ruins are as large as the ones at Tikal, although less
visited by tourists. This place, possibly allied with Yaxchilán,
got its name from the color of the stones in the river.
Quiriguá ( RESERVATION
North of Copán (in Honduras), Quiriguá was built in the valley
of the del Motagua River, which flows parallel to the Honduran
border. Currently the archaeological zone is within the del Río
Motagua Cerro Azul National Park, and it is one of the most
important in Guatemala. Quiriguá flourished between 550 and 850
A.D., the same years it maintained a fierce rivalry with its
neighbor, Copán, which it conquered in 738 A.D.. Around that
time the majority of the monuments and stelae of the site were
erected, of which Stela E stands out. It is almost 36 feet tall
(11 m.) and represents Cauac Cielo, the main ruler of Quiriguá.
Because of its exceptional value, UNESCO has named it a World
Heritage Site. Some of the main attractions of the site: The
Great Plaza This is one of the largest of its type in Mayan art
and one of the most elaborate. The Six Zoomorphs Human and
animal figures blend on these six great blocks of carved stone.
Turtles and jaguars are easily recognizable on some blocks,
while on others the intricacy of the sculptures make the images
less clear. The most interesting one is Piece C which is a
figure in the Buddha posture surrounded by countless part-human
and part-animal forms. In the Ceremonial Plaza there are various
fascinating zoomorphic figures that represent celestial gods.
The Acropolis This is the only building which stands out for its
size. It was built on the foundations of the oldest buildings.
Río Azul ( RESERVATION
Río Azul, an isolated site fifty miles (80 km.) northeast of
Tikal, almost on the border of Campeche, Mexico, is a dwelling
place the Maya established along the river of the same name.
Dams, canals, and fortifications are distributed along the
shores of this tributary that flows into the Bay of Chetumal.
Among the main attractions of the archaeological zone, with more
than 5,000 buildings, are a pyramid of 154 feet (47 m.), a
funeral chamber from A.D. 400 with murals of great beauty, and a
pot with a screw for a lid.
Tamarindito ( RESERVATION
Accessible only by foot, a small place with a surveillance
shelter, is situated on the shore of Lake lago Petexbatún, an
hour away from Dos Pilas in the Usumacinta region.
Tayasal ( RESERVATION
The city of Flores, the capital of the department of El Petén,
was built in the site once occupied by Tayasal. Few
archaeological vestiges remain on the island and around the
lake. The Itza, expelled from Yucatán in the 13th century,
arrived in El Petén and grouped together in cities like
Tayasal, their capital, which was built on the island of Flores
on the shore of Lake Petén Itzá. Hernán Cortés came to the
island when he was bound for Honduras, but the thickness of the
jungle explains why the Spanish could only dominate the Itza
Tikal ( RESERVATION
A ten-square-mile map (26 sq. km.) of the center of Tikal has
been drawn, and it shows 3,000 separate constructions: temples,
plazas, sanctuaries, ceremonial platforms, small and medium-size
residences, ball courts, terraces, and roads. Concentrated in
and around the ceremonial zone are more than 200 stone
monuments: sculptures, flat stelae, and altars, to be concise.
Such statistics are a mere suggestion of the magnitude and
richness of Tikal, especially when one realizes that only a
small portion of the site has been excavated. The massive ruins
of Tikal are centered in Tikal National Park. This park of 222
square miles (576 sq. km.) is full of roads and paths leading to
all the main archaeological sites.
The Great Plaza is the heart of the ancient city; four great
structures surround it. This ceremonial center was used for
almost a millenium, even after Tikal was abandoned. The Plaza of
the Great Pyramid is one of the oldest monument groups in the
city of Tikal, which was built beginning in the late Preclassic
Tikal's architecture, science, and art developed mainly between
the 3rd century B.C. and the 4th century A.D. In the West Plaza,
there are no restored buildings. The inhabitants of the
Postclassic period, who rebuilt a great portion of the earliest
buildings in the rest of the city, simply added several stelae
and altars to the series of late Classic period temples already
In the East Plaza, where the Méndez and Maler roads end, Temple
5D-38 and Structure 5D-43, characterized by its Talud-Tabler
style, can be seen, along with the unrestored ball game and
market constructions. The Plaza of the Great Pyramid, or the
Lost World, owes its importance to the presence of the oldest
visible building in Tikal, named the Great Pyramid. The Plaza of
the Seven Temples, lying east of the Plaza of the Great Pyramid,
dates to the Preclassic period and contains three ball-game
areas and the still unexcavated Southern Acropolis. The
principal temples are described below.
Temple I, of the Great Jaguar: closing the Great Plaza on the
east, the temple is 148 feet high (45 m.), and was built around
Temple II, of the Masks: this temple forms the Great Plaza's
west side and is 125 feet high (38 m.).
Temple III, of the Great Priest: located west of Temple II, it
is about 165 feet high (50 m.), and it was built around 810
A.D.. An original wood-carved lintel remains with a central
figure dressed in a jaguar skin.
Temple IV, of the Two-headed Serpent, is situated west of the
Great Plaza, and at 213 feet (65 m.), is the highest structure
of Tikal. Visitors can go up to the base of the cresting and
enjoy a beautiful view of Tikal.
Temple V, to the south of the Central Acropolis, is 187 feet
high (57 m.) and was built around 750 A.D.. Temple VI, of the
Inscriptions, lies at the far south end of the Méndez road. Its
cresting contains the longest hieroglyphic text in Tikal. In
front of the temple are Stela 21 and Altar 9. Currently in Tikal
there are three groups of buildings, each of which have been
named an acropolis.
The North Acropolis is located north of the Great Plaza. Diverse
ceremonial structures, as well as the figureheads of Structure
5D-33, can be observed there. The Central Acropolis, south of
the Great Plaza, holds residential and administrative
structures: buildings with several rooms and levels like the
Palace of the Stormy Sky, Maler Palace, and the Five Stories
Palace. The southern border is formed by the palace's reservoir
or watering hole.
The South Acropolis is a zone which still has not been
investigated. It lies between Temple V and the Plaza of the
Seven Temples. Other places of interest: The Palace of the Bat,
also called the Palace of Windows, is the only restored
building, although the second floor disappeared after the city
was abandoned. Complex N and Stela 16 are twin pyramids with a
perfect bas-relief of Ah Cacau and a picture and text referring
to his wife at the bottom of an altar.
Topoxté ( RESERVATION
Topoxté is a Postclassic city resting on one of the Lake Yaxhá
islands, and it has buildings similar to those in Tulúm, in
Yucatán, Mexico. To reach Topoxté, a dirt road going to Tikal
must be taken from El Remate, at the end of Lake Petén Itzá.
The road is open all year, and the trip takes approximately one
Uaxactún ( RESERVATION
Uaxactún owes its name (Uaxac = eight; tun = stone) to the fact
that Morley discovered a stela with a date beginning with the
number eight there. It is thought that Uaxactún was a fairly
important city much earlier than the date on the stela since
pieces of older stelae have been found. Beautiful vessels of
Mayan art have also been found at this site, where the solstice
and equinox phenomena may be observed at the first Maya
astronomical complex. The site's location proves it to be the
most ancient Maya city, and it is believed to be the place the
Maya consolidated their culture, perfected their writing system,
and began to create their calendar. Located 15 miles (24 km.)
north of Tikal, Uaxactún is accessible only in summer, but it
can also be reached on an unpaved road by jeep from Flores.
Yaxhá ( RESERVATION
The acropolis and plazas of Yaxchá, nineteen miles (30 km.) to
the southeast of Tikal, are connected by sacbés (roads). The
hieroglyphics indicate that it was inhabited in the early
Classic and late Classic periods. In contrast to the majority of
ceremonial centers of the Classic period in which an urban
design is detected, Yaxhá has two sections of different
quadrangular structures lined up in such a way that they form a
network of streets. This characteristic, along with the fact
that the influence of Teoatihuacán is present in the stelae and
the architecture, makes it seem likely that the street design
was adopted from that place. The unpaved road to Yaxhá begins
Zaculeu ( RESERVATION
Two-and-a-half miles (4 km.) from the department capital of
Huehuetenango, this archaeological site of a Mam city was
fortified, as with almost all late Postclassic cities
(1250-1524). A small museum here has exhibits of pottery and
human bones. Along with Nebaj, Zaculeu and Kaminal Juyú were
contemporaneous settlements of the Classic era, and these two
cities shared many traits. The archaeological zone lies about
two miles (3 km.) from Huehuetenango. Zaculeu was one of the
Mayan cities que Pedro de Alvarado attacked ruthlessly until it
fell in 1525. In 1946 and 1947 the following structures were
restored: Structure 1, the largest of the settlement; Structure
13, which still shows traces of paint; and Structure 4, next to
which ceremonies and festivities took place. In numerous places
buried ceramics and other diverse objects have been found in
Zaculeu along with a great amount of carved pyrite, a mineral as
hard as jade. Initially, in the early Classic period (A.D. 400
to 700), Zaculeu was influenced by Teotihuacan, but in the late
Classic era it relates much more closely to the Gulf of Mexico
coastal cultures, primarily with El Tajín.