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Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-04-24 19:35:27 | Los Amates, Izabal, Guatemala
Keywords: Mayas, UNESCO
The last ruins I visited, Tikal, are by far the most visited in Guatemala. The ones I visited today are certainly the UNESCO site the least visited in the country. I was there at 10 AM, and I was the only visitor on the site... I encountered a few more visitors on my way out, an hour later. Quiriguá is not as spectacular as can be star sites like Chichen Itza or Palenque in Mexico... but its probably more important than any other Mayan site (exception made of Copán, Honduras, I'll visit next week).

In Quiriguá, you won't find any major outstanding architecture with tall pyramids and dozens of temples. Because it played an important role in the trading routes from about year 200 to year 800, it was the seat of the rulers of the area. Most of what we see now was part of a remodelling of the city in early 8th century to reflect the seat of the regional power, the older parts were demolished by the Mayas when renovating the city.

So, the legacy of Quiriguá is not the architecture, it's the history. Most of what we know today about the Maya civilization comes from the stelaes found in Quiriguá and Copán. Without the decryption of those, we would know virtually nothing about this important civilization that still thrives in the area from Mexico to Costa Rica.

These stelaes are rocks that were processed and then manually carved to represent the various parts of the history of the people. Through these inscriptions we know the different rulers of the city, their history, their wars, the extent of their power and their accomplishments. Quiriguá was apparently a city that knew peace most of the time and they were very good in keeping records (by engraving their stelaes every 5 years or so, a cycle known as Hotún).

Detail of the Stelae F.

Stelae F is the tallest and the biggest stelae in the Mayan world, it was dedicated in year 771. It's sheer size is impressive: 35 feet (10,6 m) tall, 5 feet (1,5 m) wide and 4 feet (1,2 m) thick; it weighs in at 130 000 pounds (about 59 000 kg). Even by today's standards, it's enormous. But imagine that these rocks were all cut-out from the carry and transported by human power (no horse or any animal power before the arrival of the Spaniards, 700 years later). No metal tools either (Mayas didn't know any metal)... only stone chisels pushed by other rocks or wooden hammers. Stelae F is sculpted on all faces giving tons of information about the era and the area.

What you see today on the site are exact cement replicas of the original stones. They were all placed in the Gran Plaza at the entrance of the site. They are protected from the weather by little huts. There are about a dozen stelaes and other massive sculptures in display.

Part of the Gran Plaza where the stelaes are located.

It's not a large site... but it's remarkably ready to receive visitors... it's very well organized and clean. There are a few tours from the major cities of the area (like Rio Dulce, Puerto Barrios or Morales) to go to Quiriguá... but they are very expensive. I've been on my own using local transportation for about 10% of the tour prices. Yes, it's a bit difficult to reach it and I had to walk 6 kilometres (3 in each direction) from the highway under intense heat... but it was a pleasant discovery walk across a banana plantation. I could have taken one of the moto-taxis that roam this small road which is in fact the entrance of the banana processing plant.

But after seeing with my eyes these extremely impressive carvings I totally understand it's importance and no wonder it was listed on the World Heritage Sites in 1981, because it's a key location to understand a major civilization that left us so many wonders.

Related posts:
Copán Ruinas
What I've seen in Mexico
Chichén Itzá


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