Maya // Quiriguá
From the mystical jungles of El Petén in the north, we travel south towards the Rio Dulce, then inland to Los Amates, Guatemala. Nest stop in the Maya Archaeology series — Quiriguá. Not on most traveler’s radar, Quiriguá was a must stop for us, and well worth the multiple buses, tuk-tuks and overwatering from our rest stop in Finca Tatin. It is a bit of a pain to get to, and the little town of Los Amates adjacent to the ruins doesn’t have much going for it. We could tell right away, what with the local teens all doing everything in their power to separate the quetzales from our pockets. We found a simple hotel – Hotel Royal – ditched our bags and caught a tuk-tuk back to the ruins.
While a small site without many (excavated) building structures, Quiriguá is a must see for the assortment of gigantic, intricate and simply stunning stelae. The tallest, Stela E at 35 feet, is the largest known quarried stone in the entire Mayan kingdom and likely the tallest freestanding monument in the New World (that’s Sandra next to it below). These are HUGE pieces of rock, each carved so finely and woven with rich tales of dynasties, calendar events and tributes to the gods. They appear to be decoration, but they are in fact a critical communication and archival instrument. Some here have been removed from the site for care in Guatemala’s Mayan museums, but most are original. Covered by thatched roof, the stelae, altars and zoomorphs are preserved from the environment, but it sure makes a good photograph difficult.
In the images below, you will see some of these stelae standing tall. Altars are present as well, including some with animal and spirit motifs, but the zoomorphs are the oddity this time out. Zoomorphs are massive stone carvings, seemingly of a composite of beasts – jaguar, crocodile, toad, bird – together forming a unique, almost mythical creature. This was one of Quiriguá’s gifts to the Mayan canon.
Back in 200AD when the site was built up and occupied, ballcourts, temples and an acropolis show this was a grand city in it’s own right. Today it is a manicured site, restored and protected by UNESCO. With jungle immediately surrounding, the ceiba again makes a statement and the twisted vines give a glimpse of the clearing needed to uncover these treasures. Just outside of Quiriguá is the start (or middle?) of 1000s of acres of banana plantation. Quiriguá’s history is woven with it’s ancient neighbour Copán, now in present-day Honduras. We’ll travel to Copán – the glorious art city of the Maya – next in this series, so stay tuned!
Quiriguá, Los Amates, Guatemala, 2011.