Tags: Guatemala, Maya ruins, Quiriguá

Date: January 28, 2020

We spent a couple of weeks back in the cabin in Rio Dulce after the big Christmas and New Year's trip. Then it was time for a bit of exploration again so we decided to go on a short trip over land to Honduras.

We sailed to the town of Fronteras and was picked up by a driver there. With the border crossings and going to Honduras, we figured that it would be best to have a local guide. We drove for about an hour from Fronteras before we came to the ancient Maya site called Quiriguá, still in Guatemala.

The biggest goal of this trip was to see the Copán ruins in Honduras. Both Quiriguá and Copán was founded in 426 by some people from Tikal which is 225 km to the north over rugged terrain. Copán in Honduras is a further 50 km over mountains to the south. This is the southeastern-most of the major Maya cities.

Quiriguá was a small trading station controling the Motagua River and the city was under the control of Copán. Copán in turn was allied with Tikal which was a very large city at this time. This was the way things went from the year 426 until 724 at which time Quiriguá got a new ruler called K'ak' Tiliw Chan Yopaat. He was not satisfied with being ruled by Copán. In 734 he started calling himself "Holy Lord" which was not appropriate while being ruled by another city. Meanwhile, the city of Calakmul in Mexico was a enemy of Tikal. In 736 the ruler of Calakmul came to visit Quiriguá, a trip of 325 km as the crow flies. An alliance was formed and in 738, Quiriguá managed to capture the leader of Copán. Copán's leader was beheaded in the public plaza on May 3 of 738 and from this day on, the roles were switched and Copán was under the rule of Quiriguá. Quiriguá took a number of great sculptors from Copán and put them to work, creating the tallest stelae in the Mayan civilization.

Almost all the stelae in Quiriguá was made while K'ak' Tiliw Chan Yopaat was the ruler. They are very detailed, with a lot of writing. Furthermore, they are made of sandstone which is more sturdy than the usual limestone and was the reason they could be made so tall. It also means that they are very well preserved, even today. Here is one with some very clear writing:

The stelae are very detailed and more three dimensional than we have ever seen them before.

Here is an example of a different kind of hieroglyphs than what we have usually seen:

The hieroglyphs in the top part much more detailed than the normal ones we see (like the ones near the bottom). The detailed ones typically involve people in various positions, but they still have meanings, like the normal hieroglyphs.

Another detailed stela:

This is the tallest stela at this site. It is a little over 7.5 meters tall, but not only that, another three meters are buried under ground as its foundation:

Like almost all the other stelae in Quiriguá, it is a tribute to K'ak' Tiliw Chan Yopaat and a new one was erected every five years. In the Maya calendar, new periods called Katuns started every twenty years and every fourth of these monuments were built to coincide with the coming of a new Katun.

Here is a rare stela with diagonal writing which is inspired from Copán:

Large rocks with intricate carvings used as altars:

The dancing humanoid figure is probably the rain god Chaac.

These large rocks and especially the zoomorphs (seen further below) are quite unique to Quiriguá.

Here is a picture of the plaza with the tall stelae:

Notice the size of the ceiba tree in the middle of the public plaza. Behind this plaza was another smaller plaza that was probably for the rulers of the city:

Apart from the amazingly tall and detailed stelae, the also had something called zoomorphs in Quiriguá:

The are basically very large rocks carved to look like animals, but also with some writing on them.

K'ak' Tiliw Chan Yopaat was the ruler from 724 to 785, so he became very old by Mayan standards. He was no doubt the most important ruler of Quiriguá. The next ruler is thought to be his son and he continued with the sculptures, but in the form of the zoomorphs and altars. After him things went downhill and the last known recorded date at this site is 810 at a time when the ancient Mayan civilization was collapsing. Here is a smaller stela made by the last ruler (possibly the grandson of K'ak' Tiliw Chan Yopaat):

This was a great start of our trip and later in the afternoon we crossed the border to Honduras where we stayed at a very nice hotel. The four Central American countries of Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador have a collaboration where people can travel quite freely. The is called the Central America-4 Free Mobility Agreement (CA-4). It meant that it is quite easy even for foreigners like us to cross the border from Guatemala to Honduras. It took about 15 minutes each way and cost a total of six dollars for both of us. The whole of Central America has a number of collaborations, both political and economical. Apart from the four countries mentioned above, Central America consists of Panama, Costa Rica and Belize, so seven in total.