Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua

The ruins of Quirigua retain an impressive series of stelae and sculpted calendars, partially deciphered, which constitute a remarkable and unique source of the history of the social, political and economic events of the Mayan civilization. The zoomorphic and anthropomorphic sculptures are among the most attractive pre-Columbian works known.

Quirigua is, together with that of Copán (Honduras), one of the major testimonies to the Mayan civilization. At Quirigua, traces of human occupation are attested to from about AD 200, but the zenith of the city may be placed during the period known as Late Classic, about AD 600-900.

Inhabited since the 2nd century AD, Quirigua had become during the reign of Cauac Sky (723-84), the first sovereign of the historic period who has been identified with certainty, the capital of an autonomous and prosperous state. The extraction of jade and obsidian in the upper valley of the Rio Motagua, which was tightly controlled, gave rise to a profitable goods trade with the coastal ports of the Caribbean. This monopoly remained in existence during the 9th century.

The ruins of Quirigua contain some outstanding 8th-century monuments and an impressive series of carved stelae and sculpted calendars that constitute an essential source for the study of Mayan civilization. However, Quirigua is a zone of high seismic risk; in addition, several monuments have undergone accelerated erosion owing to the tropical climate.

For reasons which are not clear, Quirigua then entered a period of decline. It is known that, at the time of the arrival of the European conquistadores, the control of the jade route had been taken over by Nito, a city closer to the Caribbean coast. Although Quirigua has retained ruins and vestiges of dwellings ranging from between AD 200 and AD 900, most of the monuments that ensure Quirigua its world-wide renown date from the 8th century, the period during which the city was entirely remodelled in accordance with its function as royal residence and administrative centre.

The monumental complexes which are set out around the Central Plaza, the Ceremonial Plaza and the Plaza of the Temple are remarkable for the complexity of their structure - a highly elaborate system of pyramids, terraces, and staircases which results in a complete remodelling of the natural relief and which creates, as at Copán, a singular dimension.

The production of monolithic stone monuments, called stelae with their dated texts of hieroglyphs, defines the beginnings and the end of the Classic period of Maya civilization. The stelae remain the principal written chronicles of this lost civilization, as well as the key to their highly advanced calendar system. Like most Mayan monuments, they were erected to commemorate the passage of time, and significant historic events. During its brief time of erecting stelae, Quirigua was one of only two cities to regularly erect monuments marking the end of five-year periods.

These huge stone monolithic sculptures were artfully carved without the benefit of metal tools; stone chisels, driven by other stones or wooden mallets, were the only tools available. Most of the monuments face north, allowing the early morning sun to highlight the relief of the carvings. Stele E was dedicated at Quirigua in 771 AD, and is the largest known quarried stone in the Maya world. It stands 35 feet (10.6 m) tall, 5 feet (1.5 m) wide and 4 feet (1.2 m) thick; it weighs in at 130,000 pounds (about 59,000 kg). [I haven't deleted the imperial measurements here as they are so precise, in case you want to keep them.] This gigantic marker stands as a monument to the Ancient Maya Civilization, and to the Mayan lord of the forgotten city of Quirigua who is depicted, over three times life size, on its face. Nearby stand 21 other monuments, the finest examples of Classic Mayan stone carving.

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