Our recent Belizian trip included a trip to the Xunantunich Mayan ruins. As indicated in my Belize part 3-A blog http://actvra.in/gJc, we had a long and interesting journey to get to the site of the ruins, and in this blog, I’ll share the actual site, as well as the thoughts of our full-blooded Mayan tour guide on the 2012 end of the world rumors.
Once we reached the site, it was a short walk up a well-marked road to the actual location of the ancient city. Our tour guide, Bernard, who was a full-blooded Mayan man, shared a lot of information. Our tour lasted approximately 2 hours and included the history, a walk around the site, time to climb several of the buildings, pause to imagine the “win and die” games on the game court, and time to watch a true army of ants busy at work.
The name of this site, Xunantunich, means maiden of the rock or stone woman, although our guide pointed out this was not the first name of the area, which meant beautiful lady (I don’t remember the actual first name).
The site included the remains of four of the buildings, and the game court. The actual city though was home to approximately 10,000 residents, and the temples and courtyard area would have been surrounded by the homes of the “regular” residents.
The buildings were huge. As you can see from the man who is standing under the tree in the picture on the left, the Mayan buildings were skyscrapers of their day, and the larger building in this picture was approximately 130 feet tall.
The Mayans believed that the numbers 3, 9 and 13 were important. The number 3 meant “welcome” and the first building you come to (not pictured) had three doorways which welcomed visitors to the city. The number 9 referred to the underworld, and the number 13 to the heavens. It was believed the ruler was part of the underworld, but he had the ability to change to a God. Therefore, his personal residence had 9 doorways, and the residence of the rest of the ruling class (large building in first picture) included 13 doorways. It was thought the ruler would leave his residence, enter the large temple, and take a secret staircase to a room where he could change his clothing, and emerge at the top of the temple as the “God”. The secret passageway is uncovered, as are a few of the bedrooms in this building.
Along the back of the temple, there was a detailed stelae (a stone story that depicted various scenes from everyday Mayan life).
We also had a chance to see the court where the Mayan ball game was played. A stone ring was mounted vertically on both sides of the walls of the court. There were two teams, and the object was to get the solid rubber ball into the ring, using only your elbows, head and knees – use of feet and hands was absolutely forbidden.
The players were all selected by the king; it was an honor to play. That being said, the leader of the winning team would be sacrified, and his heart ripped out of his chest. The leader of the losing team would lose everything he owned.
The Mayans felt that being sacrified was the ultimate honor, as they believed they would come back as something even better. Therefore, the fact that they were sacrified was not a deterrent to playing the game.
At one point in our tour, our guide asked how many people believed in the 2012 “end of the world” Mayan theory. No one admitted to believing the rumors, but Bernard shared his beliefs anyway. He said, yes, the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, but the Mayans never indicated anything about earthquakes, catastrophes, or any other end of world theories. They believed that at the end of the existing calendar, they would experience a rebirth, which would be an improvement on their existing life. Whether that meant they would die and be reborn, or whether their life would just experience major changes, either way, things would be better for them. In the opinion of our guide, the apocalypse beliefs are simply not true. The calendar is just going to start over. So anyone who was worried about it, there’s nothing to worry about!
A last note about the site of the Xunantunich Mayan ruins. The vistas from the middle and top of the temples are BEAUTIFUL. You can see into Guatemala from the top. The views themselves are reason enough to make this a must-see part of any Belizian trip.
Next – swimming with the sharks….