Xunantunich

5 07 2013

Xunantunich (pronounced shoo-NAHN-too-nich) Difficult to remember?  Just say “tuna sandwich” to help with recall. 🙂

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Xunantunich ceremonial center (which means “Stone Lady” or “Maiden of the Rock”) is a Mayan archeological site built during the classical period around 650 AD to 1000 AD. When Belize was British Honduras, Xunantunich was explored by Brits Thomas Gann in 1894 -5, Sir Eric Thompson in 1938, and Linton Satterthwaite in 1949, amongst others.  Xunantunich may have been abandoned by the Mayans who resided there after an earthquake.  It is composed of 6 major plazas and more than 25 temples and palaces, the largest of which is “El Castillo” (the Castle)

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which ascends 130’ over the plaza, making it the second tallest building in Belize (behind Caana the temple at Caracol).  El Castillo is the only pyramid I’ve visited that I’ve been allowed to climb

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(no safety rails anywhere – Belize is not a litigious/overly safety conscious place yet – all the lawyers go into politics where they can make more money). At the top,

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you can enjoy terrific views of the jungle and villages of both Belize

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and Guatemala while sitting on a platform made entirely from one slab of stone (how’d they get this up here?).

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El Castillo was a large multi-complex building that served as a dwelling, shrine, and administrative hub for the elite rulers of the center. There are friezes

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remaining on the East and West sides.  The mask with the big ears

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represents the “sun god” and is flanked by symbols representing the moon and Venus (something about the night wooing the dawn?). Also depicted in the friezes are the Mayan days of the week, a jaguar and a headless person (not sure who he was supposed to be and why he was deliberately “beheaded” by the Maya – see upper right of frieze in first photo – you can double click on it to make it larger).

Xunantunich is reached from Western Highway at the town of San Jose Succotz (close to the border with Guatemala) by taking your vehicle across the Mopan River on a hand cranked ferry

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(passengers must get outside of the vehicle and ride the ferry standing).  The ferry does not run if it has been raining and the river is swollen.  The ferry is free, but it is always appreciated if you tip the cranky (just kidding – he is a pleasant person) cranking guy.

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