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Ancient architecture of El Salvador’s Mayan Route takes tourists back in time

The three most important archeological sites in El Salvador contain critical history of the Mayan and indigenous people who inhabited the land over 2,500 years ago. Key elements of modern society rest upon the early work of Mayan and Aztec populations.

  • 12 months ago
  • February 26, 2023
2 min read

MAYAN ROUTE, El Salvador ꟷ The three most important archeological sites in El Salvador contain critical history of the Mayan and indigenous people who inhabited the land over 2,500 years ago. Key elements of modern society rest upon the early work of Mayan and Aztec populations.

The Mayans, for example, invented the calendar which contained 365 days. They included amongst their community mathematicians and astronomers who tracked planetary motion, and setup processes for agriculture, trade, and travel.  

Read more stories about Mayan and indigenous culture at Orato World Media.

While El Salvador contains many additional archeological sites, these three stand as icons of the Pre-Hispanic era. Designated as “archeological parks,” they boast great educational importance and tourism value. The parks are primarily visited by Salvadorans, many of whom are students. Only 10 percent of visitors include foreigners from other countries.

Joya de Cerén

UNESCO declared Joya de Cerén a World Heritage Site in 1993. This site shows the daily life of the Mayans. The indigenous community inhabited the village around the year 650 when the Loma Caldera volcano erupted. A tractor unearthed some of the remains in 1976 by accident while doing dirt work to build silos for the storage of grains. While removing dirt from a hill, the tractor driver discovered part of a house. The park now sits within the Valle de Zapotitán, in the municipality of San Juan Opico in the department of La Libertad.

Las Ruinas de San Andrés

The archeological site known as Las Ruinas de San Andrés sits in the Zapotitán Valley, five kilometers from Joya de Cerén, in the department of La Libertad. The site includes an acropolis, meaning “high city.” Historians believe, due to its unique architecture, it remained home to the indigenous elite. Surrounding the city, common people lived, indicating the valley remained densely populated during pre-Hispanic times.

In June 1855, the owner of an old indigo hacienda [a large estate] sold it to the Salvadoran government. Then, in 1976, by legislative decree, it became a national monument. Later, in 1996, it was inaugurated as the San Andrés Archaeological Park, where tourists can visit the pyramids, the obraje [where they processed and manufactured cloth] and the site museum.

El Tazumal

Historians consider the ruins of El Tazumal the most important site of its kind in all of Central America. Located in the municipality of Chalchuapa, in the department of Santa Ana, it contains great evidence of indigenous settlements. Archeologist Stanley Boggs studied the site around 1940 and identified 13 structures. The massive ceremonial complex integrated Mayan people with the Pipil Indian community and reveals their extraordinary ingenuity.

All photos courtesy of Nubia Beatriz Rivas Alvarenga.

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