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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Mayan History and Culture - Part 1

Today I will be taking you to the Mayan ruins in Izamal and Uxmal, but first we'll visit el Gran Museo del Mundo Maya de Merida (the Maya Museum in Merida). . . .

This museum tells the story of the Mayans--their beliefs about the creation of the world to today's Mayan.  I've copied the translation (which is why it reads awkward sometimes and why the formatting is all over the place!) from their website.  If you want to visit the website yourself here is the link.  I've added the few photos we took in each of the rooms.

"The museum displays a magnificent collection of more than 1,160 pieces that you can enjoy, among other examples, textiles, religious objects and various goods that reflect the current daily life of the Maya; prints, books and historical documents are also shown, as well as artistic and religious works of the colonial era; and must not forget the works and testimonies of the pre-Hispanic era including steles, carvings and stone sculptures; pottery, ceramic grave goods and offerings, plus ornaments and sumptuary objects of gold, jade and shell.

Rooms start with the current scenario of the Mayan culture to go deeper into the past of this ancient people through four main sections:

Room 1: Nature and Culture Mayab

The Maya have inhabited a territory covering the Yucatan Peninsula, where today the states of Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Campeche Chiapas and Tabasco are based, as well as Belize, Guatemala and parts of Honduras, and a geographically isolated region but culturally twinned : the land of the Huasteca that live between San Luis Potosi and Veracruz. Nestled in the Mayab peninsular region, the area is predominantly flat, with underground fresh water, covered by a thin layer of cultivable stony ground. Its apparent uniformity houses forests, mangrove swamps and savannah inhabited by a rich variety of wildlife, habitat complex whose skies chirping more bird species than the whole of Europe. But the Mayab is also defined by its human dimension; after more than 3,000 years of continuous occupation, the Maya have left an indelible mark on the landscape, thanks to its agricultural activity and its incessant traffic in the region.

Room 2: Maya Today

A diverse region could not accommodate a homogeneous group. The peninsular Maya are a people physically, linguistically and culturally related peoples, so it is unthinkable one way of being Mayan. Throughout its history, each community printed his mother inflections language, and today practiced their ancestral way customs and updated ancient knowledge, as in the case of agricultural activity, in which the primary role of maize for subsistence is reflected in its conception of time and rituals that ensure their growth, or in the recreation of prehispanic ceremonies root and with a strong Christian influence, such as Cha-chaac to implore the gods for rain. Other ways of life enrich this culture: merchants, professionals, scientists or artists, or those of many who became employed or who emigrated forced by their economic situation.
Room 3: Yesterday Maya

Conquest meant the most drastic transformation of culture: still inhabited cities were devastated and abandoned, countless material remains were destroyed, and indigenous submitted must comply with the tax requirements of the Spaniards. Villas and Hispanic Mayan villages displaced communities; based on the use of metal technology changed work processes; animals and plants overseas mingled with themselves, and unknown diseases decimated the population. But neither the marginalization and exploitation that followed still suffering in the Independent Mexico or attempts to incorporate them into a society that saw the differences as an impediment to the development of the country have prevented the Maya from preserving their culture, their knowledge and their practices constantly resignified are transmitted within the family and community.

Henequen (sisal) hacienda

Room 4: Ancient Mayas

The history of the ancient Maya provides a fundamental lesson for humanity, because although they interacted with diverse environment for two millennia, learned to use it to improve their quality of life and develop a prosperous and independent culture, without actually destroying it. They cultivated in the rainforest, wetlands and used wisely arranged renewable resources; They faced natural disasters, overpopulation and oppression, but managed to preserve their traditions traveling to other places and closer family ties. With a population that reached several million individuals, they occupied an equivalent to a sixth of the Mexican territory, where they founded from small villages to large cities area. Among his contributions include the design of their buildings, sculptures and paintings, calendars, and their numbering systems and writing.

Maya calendar

Red dye made from the cochineal bug was used to paint their pyramids

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Ken's day trip to Uxmal was with our son and two of his friends who'd come down for our grandson's baptism.  This is a map of the ruins. . . .

The North Zone on the map is the area not yet reclaimed from the jungle.  In the slideshow you'll see these buildings/pyramids poking up out of the forest.  You can read about Uxmal (pronounced Ushmal) here.  It talks about the advanced construction methods used by the Maya.  The music that accompanies Ken's photos is from the Mayan CD "El Tunkul" by Moisés Hernández. . . .


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Earlier in the week our daughter-in-law's family took us to Izamal for the day.  The first thing we did was take a carriage ride through the village. . . .

That's me under the hat

The ride down the narrow streets took us past the Mayan ruins intermingled with houses, businesses, and churches. . . .

These steps take you to the tallest pyramid in the village. . . .

You can see it off in the distance in this photo.  The top of the pyramid (another 20 feet) was dismantled by the Spanish in the 1500's. . . .

You can read about the pyramids here.

You have already seen several of the buildings in my Architecture slideshow (starting at 1:52).  They were all painted yellow to match the Franciscan monastery for Pope John Paul II 's 1993 visit.  This walk led up to the breezeway around the monastery's court yard.  The reason it is so high above the village is because it was built atop the base of one of the dismantled pyramids. . . .

The church is in the center. . . .

This is the back side of the monastery. . . .

Mayan hieroglyphics
The stones from the pyramid can be found in the walls and floor of the monastery. . . .
Red dye the Maya used
The inner courtyard. . . .

 ....contained a sun dial. . . .

We couldn't take photos in the church but were allowed to in the small museum that housed several examples of the dress that the Virgin Mary statue wears when it is displayed in the church for three months every year.  Each year a new dress is made in the village for the statue to wear.  This was my favorite. . . .

When the statue is not in the church it is kept inside this room. . . .

Our guide led us around to the side of the monastery. . . .

You can see the actual base of the pyramid that the monastery is built upon (below the ledge). . . .

Did you notice the lizard on the wall. . . .

After the tour we had lunch at Kinich restaurant which I featured in the Food slideshow (starting at 2:26). . . .

The monastery has a repetition as a sacred site so I toured it in prayerful reverence.  As we were walking in the portico outside the church I looked down and saw this white feather.   My daughter-in-law later bought the card at the restaurant and gave it to me.  It's plastic pouch was a perfect place to keep my reminder. . . .

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If I've whetted your appetite to learn more about the Mayan history and culture you will enjoy this 80-minute documentary. . . .


This is an interesting 14-minute documentary by PBS NOVA on a discovery in Guatemala using satellites:  The Mayan Civilization

.•*¨`*•. ☆ .•*¨`*•
Take Joy!


  1. Thank you, Cathy for the lovely tour of the museum and the ruins. I'm so glad these places have been preserved for posterity. The white feather is a nice keepsake from a special time. ♥

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I find their history fascinating and how many of their stories have the same themes found in other cultures on the other side of the world.

  2. That was an amazing tour you took us on, difficult to take it all on board reading it once, I need to go back and read it all again. A lovely post.

    1. It IS difficult to absorb it all. Doing these posts and the additional research as I hunt for links to add (so I don't have to put it into words myself) is helping me get a better understanding of it all. I'm also reading a book called Mexico Mystique that I found in a used book store last week.

  3. I enjoyed your amazing tour. It was very interesting. We also went to Mexico years ago & toured the ruins. It brought back many memories. Thank you for this post!

  4. The history is fascinating and it's good that it is preserved. It reminds me of the Inca ruins in Bolivia. Thank you for the time you took to put this post together -- so interesting. You had an amazing trip!

    1. And I feel I'm still there as I do these posts. We went to the National Museum of the American Indian yesterday for a special event on Mayan creativity. I hadn't made it to the museum yet so it was a chance to learn a little more about the local native peoples here in Maryland as well. We probably had Kittoctons, a local tribe of Algonquin Indians living on our land several centuries ago. I found a stone in our woods that might very well be an arrow head.

  5. Cathy, I am LOVING all the educational posts you've been doing out of your visit to Mexico. It has actually changed my view about what I thought Mexico is like. I'd always been told that everything in Mexico was either very very poor OR had a lot of high-end upscale luxury. And also that urban life was rich, rural life was poor. Your posts are clearly showing that this is a stereotype whose time is over. And there's SO much in today's post. I "skimmed" all the videos and links just now but am going to go back later on tonight and really read/pay attention in depth, when I usually settle in for some serious time on my laptop. But for right now I do have a question - during your tours of the various attractions was there any mention made of that whole "per the Mayan calendar, the world will end in December 2012" concept? I'm guessing probably not, since it's past. Just wondering though.

    1. I figured you'd enjoy this post, Janet. I would in lots of links, so be sure to click on anything highlighted in blue! The Maya never said the world would end in 2012. Based on their calendar it would be the end of an era. It was called the 13 Bak'tun if you want to find out more about it.

    2. OK thanks. Sounds like that whole "Mayans predict end of the world" stuff was a lot of misinterpretation by non-Mayans. But it certainly was widely-reported. I am REALLY enjoying all the links. You might have missed a calling, Cathy - you're a teacher... 💛

    3. Janet, I do love "teaching" but would not have been happy only doing that. I like that I'm able to do a little bit of all the things I love doing!

  6. Long ago now, an older friend used to take me to travel lectures given at the Lyric Theater in Baltimore. They were always full, as I recall. You might find you have a live audience to share your touring with, if you check around your community.
    You are so attentive to detail and expressive of our own interpretation, I think people would enjoy them.

    After one of our trips, we did a presentation at a retirement community where my husband's aunt lived. The residents were very attentive and asked good questions.

    1. Thank you for your confidence in my abilities, Elaine! I'm planning something like that for my Take Joy Society group, so we'll see how that goes.

  7. I have just been catching up on your Mexico posts. They are so interesting to find out more about this country you are a very good guide. Sarah x

    1. I'm so glad you are enjoying my tour!


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