TRIP TO THE MAYAN CULTURE
HISTORY AND AGRICULTURE
I’m Sardinian, descendant of the Shardana warriors, people of the sea that nobody has ever known how to fight and nobody defeated them.
That’s why ancient civilizations have always fascinated me and my trip to Mexico could only include a few days to dedicate to them.
I had seen many photos of these places, but being there was a great emotion, a point of arrival.
Previously I had already seen the Great Wall but they are too different, not comparable works.
But I can do it with similar sites: the Aztec city of Teotihuacan, near Mexico City, is equally beautiful.
The Temples of Angkor, Cambodia, are what most amazed me in all my travels.
I know to be one of the very few people in the world to think that, compared to the world heritage just mentioned, for me Machu Picchu is one of the most disappointing and overrated places.
But let’s go in order:
Archaeologists believe that the appearance of the Mayan civilization dates about back to 2500 BC.
Over the centuries they have become phenomenal astronomers, studying perfectly the movements of stars and planets.
They used these discoveries in agriculture, following the rain and crop cycles.
And this knowledge is still use in Chiapas by indigenous peoples and Zapatista communities.
THE MAYA CALENDAR
The Mayans were among the first in Mesoamerica to write with a logosyllabic alphabet and still leave scientists marvel because their sophisticated and complex astronomical calendars.
The calculations were so perfect that they are still more precise than we currently use.
In fact, the Earth makes a complete turn around the Sun in 365.242189 days.
For the Mayans, one year lasted 365.242036 days while in our gregorian calendar 365.2425 days are considered.
The Mayans used 3 intersecting calendars:
– the religious calendar (tzolkin): it combined 13 numbers with 20 names, thus creating a period of 260 days,
– the civil calendar (haab): like ours, composed by 365 days but divided into 18 months with 20 days each, plus 5 “additional” days,
– the long cycle: indicates the number of days since the beginning of the Mayan era and is the most complex system, using a mixed base-20 / base-18 mathematical representation of a number.
I try to explain it.
It consists of kin (1 day), uinal (1 = 20 kin), tun (1 = 18 uinal = 360 days), katun (1 = 20 tun = 7200 days, about 20 years), baktun (1 = 20 katun = 144,000 days, approximately 394 years)
Kin, tun e katun are numbered from 0 to 19, uinal from 0 to 17.
On the numbering of baktun, there are different opinions.
There are those who limit it to 13 and from this was the theory that the Maya considered December 21, 2012 as the date of the end of the world.
According to the Mayan calendar, that date would have been 126.96.36.199.19 i.e. 12 baktun, 19 katun, 19 tun, 17 uinal, 19 kin.
The next day it therefore became 0.0.0.0.0 or 188.8.131.52.0
Other scientists instead consider the limit of the baktuns at 19 and in this case the day 184.108.40.206.19 of the long cycle will be in the year 4772.
According to these calculations, the day 0 of the Maya, or better the day 0.0.0.0.0, would be August 13, 3114 BC.
The Mayan world revolved around a celestial map.
The cities were built in such a way that the buildings allowed observation of the sun, moon, planets and constellations.
Some astronomical object are visible exactly in the center of a window during an eclipse.
The day of the equinox of spring and autumn Sun creates a play of light and shadow that draws the image of the Serpent God moving along the stairs of the temple.
The ceiba was the sacred tree that united the 13 heavens, the Earth and the 9 levels of the realm of the dead.
This large structure operated according to the laws of astrology and the worship of ancestors.
Another fundamental aspect for the Maya were cardinal points: east (the most important because it indicates the sunrise and was represented with the red color), west (on the contrary indicates the sun that disappears and is therefore represented with black), north (from there the rains come, color white) and south (yellow like the southern sun).
GAMES AND SACRIFICES
An area dedicated to the “ball game” is clearly identifiable in all Mesoamerican cities.
It can’t be called football, but maybe it looked a lot like it.
Often it had a real religious meaning: the result decided some choices.
It is also almost certain that at the end of the game one or more players were offered as sacrifices to the gods.
In all cities there were one or more playgrounds.
DISCOVERING MAYAN CITIES
The Mayan citieshave left me speechless.
They built imposing cities thanks to the abundant lime stone available.
The rulers built increasingly majestic temples, giant pyramidal structures dominated by a thatched roof building.
Some buildings are funerary monuments, inside which there were the tombs of the great Mayan rulers.
I didn’t expect such large and perfectly organized cities.
This not only for the beauty of the buildings, but for the nature that surrounds, hides and protects them.
The Mayan city is immersed in the jungle and many of the buildings are still hidden under tropical vegetation.
This doesn’t decrease the splendor we see, but gives a more mysterious and fascinating tone.
You have to stay at least 2 hours to visit it well.
Palenque was together with Tikal and Calakmul one of the most powerful city-states of the Maya, connected to others through commercial exchange networks or alliances between groups of sovereigns.
The old name of Palenque was Lakamba “place of the great waters“.
In the area there are in fact 56 springs and 9 independent streams, with waterfalls on the slopes of the urban plateau.
The Mayans knew how to manage water resources: they had underground aqueducts for residential areas and agricultural activities and prevented collapses and erosion thanks to the construction of canals and bridges.
Obviously, sacrifices to their deities were widespread.
Over a hundred ceramic urns containing resin, shells, food, but also blood and human and animal remains have been found.
On the border with Guatemala he archaeological site of Yaxchilan stands instead.
You can get here only by sailing the historic Usumacinta River, the longest and most flowable river in Central America.
Fruit of over 400 years of activity, in an environment characterized by a great biodiversity and the presence of the Usumacinta river, Yaxchilan became a powerful city with about 120 buildings in its central area, distributed between the lower part and parallel to the river and the limestone hills that rise to the south.
Yaxchilan and other Mayan cities in the Usumacinta Province built their temples with large ceilings supported by walls and decorated with wall paintings.
Based on the ceramic materials, architecture and hieroglyphic inscriptions, it has been defined that the city was inhabited since 250 AD to 900 AD, a period in which the entire Mayan civilization collapsed.
The buildings, which seen the hillside location made use of stairs, ramps and distribution terraces, were almost all red, unfortunately now invisible color today.
These areas are obviously the natural habitat of many animals.
Its strategic position made Tulum the hub of trade by sea, river and land.
Walls were also built to control local activities and to divide the upper classes from the common people who lived outside.
The facades of the buildings had bright colors and the city, overlooking the Caribbean Sea, was certainly wonderful.
This area of Mexico, the Yucatàn Peninsula, emerged only 2 million years ago.
Its surface is calcareous and the action of water gives life to cenotes and caves.
In front of the city of Tulum, in the depths of the Caribbean Sea, there is the coral reef, currently the second in the world in size.
The Mayans from Tulum used the sea as their main source of livelihood, as food and to obtain work tools, utensils, ornamental and sacrificial objects.
They too, however, like the Mayans from Palenque and Yaxchilan, exploited agriculture by growing corn, beans, pumpkins, chillies, tomatoes and fruit and also hunted in the forest.
When the Spanish arrived, a cultural fusion began which led to the rapid sunset of the Mayan city of Tulum.
The site is the one I liked least because is impossible to go close to the buildings because of the too high number of tourists, especially from the resorts of Cancun and the Riviera Maya.
Even the small beach below was so crowded to make activities or rest impossible.
After the visit to the archaeological site and a dip in the water I preferred to move to quieter and more isolated beaches.