Today* was nothing short of amazing. I met a handful of bright, beautiful girls from all over the world. They are here volunteering at animal shelters, day cares, and schools; some speak Spanish and some don’t. They all found their way here by way of Miguel, who runs the school I attend. He took us today on a trip to Izamal, about an hour outside of Merida. I’ve seen many Mayan ruins in my lifetime, and though I always enjoy it they’ve expectedly lost their novelty. But this one was different than any I’ve ever visited, and far more fascinating. Most ruins are either isolated in the jungle or have become tourist traps: Izamal is a living, breathing town, “The Yellow City”, where people live and pyramids are just part of their back yards.
Miguel served as our tour guide and he knows so much about this city. It’s history is absolutely fascinating. When the Spanish arrived in 1500, they realized the city functioned as a sort of “mecca” for the local people: Mayans would travel from hundreds of miles away to pray at the site. Not ones to miss an opportunity, the Spanish played this to their advantage. The Bishop was even wily enough to arrange sit-down talks with the Mayan religious leaders, but the olive branch quickly soured and he decided to burn all of their holy books. We might have so much more information about the Maya today had it not been for him. What a dirty shame.
The bases of the pyramids are huge– not the tallest I’ve seen, but definitely the grandest and most austere. Instead of destroying all of them, as they were wont to do, the Spanish only tore down the main pyramid. It was supposedly so tall that from it’s summit you could see the ocean, miles and miles away. They used the bricks to lay the foundation for their cathedral plaza and monastery, which is second in size only to the Vatican. Instead of conquering the Maya, they wanted to absorb them: they wove their religious symbols into the Catholic tradition, just as the church has done all over the world for a millennia. Just as poseidon’s trident became the devil’s pitchfork, the Mayan’s fertility symbol (a corn flower) was woven into the image of the Virgin de Izamal.
The results of all this history and conquest are stunning. The juxtaposition of the Cathedrals right next to the Temples is mind-bending and gorgeous. The place still functions today as a holy site for the locals, but perhaps the most strange and fascinating fact of all is that it ALSO functions as a place of holy pilgrimage for Mormons. Yeah, Mormons. They think Jesus appeared in America, and this is the site he walked and preached on. Amazing history, so many different groups of people woven into one magical place.
Check out my pictures, read more about Izamal on Wikipedia, and go visit the place for yourself! It’s definitely worth seeing at least once in your lifetime.
*This post was written yesterday, I just got around to uploading the pictures and posting it now.