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Honduras in the Mayan World – The Mayan Civilization

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Due to its geographical location in the tropical region and serving as a bridge between the biological diversity of Mesoamerica and South America, Honduras is located in the heart of the Central American isthmus. It is bordered on its northern coast by the Caribbean Sea and on its southern coast by the Pacific Ocean in the Gulf of Fonseca, which is shared between Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.

With a territorial extension of 112,492 square kilometers, it shares borders with the Republic of Guatemala to the west, the Republic of El Salvador to the southwest, and the Republic of Nicaragua to the east. The official language is Spanish, although English is the predominant language in the Bay Islands, as a result of significant British influence on the islands during colonial times.

Ethnic Groups

The majority of the population is mestizo, but there is still a minority of indigenous peoples, including the Lencas in the western part of the country, as well as the Miskitos, Pesh, and Tawahkas on the northeastern coast. Another well-defined ethnic group with a significant presence in the country is the Garifuna, resulting from the cultural mixture between the Araucos indigenous people, who inhabited the Lesser Antilles, and the African slaves imported to America. This ethnic group arrived in Honduran territory in 1797 and currently has an important presence on the northern coast of the country.

See also Discover the Ethnic Groups of Honduras – Indigenous Groups in Honduras

In addition to its natural, cultural, and ethnic beauty, Honduras possesses spectacular archaeological sites, dense tropical jungles, and a marvelous underwater scenery. One of the most important cities of the Maya world is Copán, which was occupied by the Maya from the beginning of the Pre-Classic period until the end of the Classic periods. It is located in a fertile valley spanning an area of 24 square kilometers, bathed by the river of the same name.

Copán, the Glory of the Maya

Before the arrival of the Spaniards in Honduran territory, specifically in the western region, a glorious civilization known as the Maya inhabited the area during the Classic period, which spanned from 250 to 900 AD, considered the “golden age.”

According to archaeological studies, approximately 27,000 Maya people inhabited the western region of Honduras in an area of approximately 24 square kilometers, where they developed a sociopolitical level of city-states, placing them among the most advanced societies of their time.

Diego García de Palacio was credited with the discovery of the Maya city of Copán in 1576 and reported to King Philip II about the magnificence of the site, despite the encroaching jungle, describing it as a grand architecture created by peoples in a state of cultural barbarism.

The indigenous people of Copán were entrusted to Diego Pineda Menor in 1582, who held an encomienda with 20 tributaries. The first scientific explorations were conducted in 1834 when the government of the Central American Federation sent Irish-born military officer Juan Galindo to inspect the culture of the ancestral peoples in the site of Copán in order to incorporate it into the new nation being formed in Central America.

John Stephens and Frederick Catherwood explored the Central American region and southern Mexico in 1838, visiting the sites of American cultures, particularly the Maya culture. They emulated European specialists who had embarked on reinterpreting the ancient world in the classical cultures of Greece and the Middle East, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. They wrote articles about Maya culture and created drawings that were published in prominent newspapers of the time, especially in the city of New York.

During Stephens and Catherwood’s stay, an interesting incident occurred in Copán involving the purchase of the ruins from José María Acevedo, who claimed ownership of the property and was paid 50 dollars. This version was recorded in the book “Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan.”

Santa Rosa de Copán… a post-colonial city

The location where the city of Santa Rosa de Copán is situated was known since 1725 as part of a ranch where tobacco was cultivated. By the end of the 18th century, the ranch became a hacienda known as Los Llanos, which later became integrated into the area known as Los Llanos de Santa Rosa de Copán. According to the report by Ramón de Anguiano in 1801, the population of Santa Rosa belonged to the Sensenti jurisdiction, with no Spanish families, 31 Ladino families, and 26 single individuals.

In the statistical yearbook by Father Ramón Vallejo in 1889, the town of Santa Rosa, which had existed since the late 18th century, was described as a small village surrounded by beautiful ocote pine forests, inhabited by 406 families engaged in tobacco cultivation and processing. As a result of this activity, the Spanish authorities established a tobacco factory. After the independence process in 1823, Santa Rosa de Copán obtained the title of Villa and later the title of Ciudad on April 12, 1843, during the government of Francisco Ferrera.

During the Central American Federation, Santa Rosa was used as a pretext to invade the State of Honduras. President Manuel José Arce, justifying the protection of tobacco production, sent Colonel José Justo Milla to attack and overthrow President Dionisio de Herrera, besieging the then capital of Comayagua.

Since the settlement of Santa Rosa in the highlands and as a result of its productive activity in tobacco cultivation, important buildings were constructed, including the Military Barracks, the Command Headquarters, and the Catholic Church. One of its main celebrations is the patron saint festival on August 30th, in honor of Santa Rosa. The Science Fair organized by the Álvaro Contreras Institute is also a notable event.

Copán Ruinas, Impressive Maya City

It is located one kilometer from the Copán Archaeological Park. In the town center, there is a small museum that represents Maya culture. The museum was established during the research and restoration work of the archaeological site and exhibits valuable collections of jade pieces, ceremonial pottery, shell and bone objects, obsidian, Maya eccentric artifacts, burials with their offerings, and beautifully carved medium-sized sculptures.

In the town of Copán Ruinas, visitors can also explore the local market, purchase local crafts, go horseback riding, and enjoy the restaurant and hotel services. Due to its topographical location, there are elevated areas from which one can appreciate the landscape of the valley, the river meadow, forests, and tobacco fields and dryers.

The Collapse of the Maya

Currently, the Copán Ruins are one of the main centers of research on the Maya civilization’s past, which has been ongoing since the mid-20th century. These studies have provided numerous insights into their social, administrative, economic, and political life, as well as the relationship between this civilization and the environment that fostered its development and, ultimately, its collapse.

Archaeological studies suggest that the decline of the Maya civilization was caused by overpopulation and overdevelopment. During the twilight of Yax Pac’s reign, the 16th ruler, between 763 and 820 AD, a significant amount of the forest in the Copán Valley had been cleared to provide new land for settlement and agriculture, as well as to obtain firewood and construction materials. This led to a severe ecological imbalance.

Return to the main article The Maya Civilization