|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
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
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.