Cerro Maya opens to more visitors
It's an impressive ancient Maya site, but few Belizeans or tourists have experienced its grandeur. Today, with an access road replacing the need for a boat ride and a newly dedicated visitor's centre, Cerros--or Cerro Maya--is ready to take its place alongside Altun Ha, Xunantunich, and Caracol.
Janelle Chanona, Reporting
In its heyday, the city of Cerro Maya was one of the largest settlements that dotted the Mayan lowlands. Located on Corozal bay, the city was a thriving trading post capitalizing on Maya commerce in goods like jade, obsidian, and ceramics...doing business with cities as far north as Tabasco, in what is now Mexico.
But the Cerro Maya is unique because it flourished well before other more famous sites, dispelling archaeological myths about the level of Mayan civilization in the pre-classic era.
Dr. Jaime Awe
"Cerros gives us an opportunity to look at a time in Maya past for which we have very few centres, and that is the pre-classic period. We know that this site is first occupied around 500 B.C., that it really starts to develop about a century before the birth of Christ and that development continues into the first century after Christ in the time that we call the late pre-classic period. Coming to Cerros gives you the opportunity to look at what the Maya were during that time period."
"Maya civilization was fully developed before the birth of Christ, Maya writing is already being used before the birth of Christ, mathematics, calendrics, studies in astronomy and other scientific achievements, all made before the birth of Christ, way, way before we ever thought, and Cerros is one of those places where this comes to light. So it is one of those places that tell us, look, the Maya were way ahead in terms of their achievement than any of us previously thought."
Belize boasts hundreds of Mayan sites, but archaeologists have discovered that Cerros is one of the few pre-classic sites with ball courts, indicating its prestige at such an early time. It’s now up to modern day historians to revive some of Cerros’ ancient glamour.
Yasser Musa, President, NICH
"Since the 70s, developments have focused on archaeology, where foreign groups have come to do scientific research. But now with the advent of this tourism and cultural revolution that we are trying to foster, Cerros is a great example of a place where we can link both things and also involve the community."
According to Yasser Musa, President of the National Institute of Culture and History, recent developments at Cerro Maya or “Maya Hill” will bring tourism dollars to villages like Chunox, Progresso, and Copperbank where viable economic opportunities are hard to come by.
"Two things that I want to focus on, the issue of bringing together the community, with the villagers, getting them involved in making things to sell and have commercial ventures that’s one, by providing them with booths, stalls, and getting them involved in the commercial activity. On the other side of that, right across the bay is the town of Corozal and at the old market, which is an industrial building and also a historical site, we are planning to convert that into a House of Culture for Corozal by this year September. Many people used to just come across the bay, that’s how most of us know the site and that again will bring a lot of traffic, a lot of tourists, a lot of visitors to the site."
Authorities hope tourists and students alike will journey into Cerros' past, especially since a newly built twelve-mile access road makes the trip much more comfortable.
"It was so hard to do any work here because any kind of development required that we transport goods across the bay on boats, which made it financially prohibitive. Now with the new road, it means that we can do much more for the conservation of this site at far less cost. We are in Belize, you know, Belize is a developing country so we have to make our resources try to go as far as they can."
If you do decide to visit Cerro Maya, I feel obligated to advise you: don't forget to bring mosquito repellent...a lot of mosquito repellent.