The name, according to one interpretation, means "Maiden of the Rock" in the Yucatec dialect. It is pronounced "zshoo-NAN-too-NEECH." It was the first site in Belize to be opened to the public, when the road and a ferry were built in 1954.
What you will see today is a Classic period (300-900 AD) ceremonial center, with large plazas ringed with pyramids. The tallest is the 130 foot "El Castillo," which is large by Mayan standards and is only exceeded by the Caana pyramid at Caracol. The site was occupied until around 900 A.D. and was likely abandoned after an earthquake, the evidence of which was discovered by archaeologists in the mid-1900's.
The recent history of Xunantunich began in the late 1800's, when it was explored by a British medical officer named Thomas Gann. The first known photograph of the site was taken in 1904 and displayed in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for many years. Nothing further was done until Gann returned in 1924, at which time he reportedly unearthed many Maya treasures. The recorded history of these items has been lost and, at present, no one knows of their whereabouts. It is possible that many museums and private collectors of Maya artifacts are displaying them, with no idea of their origin.
Over the last 70 years, many noted archaeologists have undertaken various excavations at Xunantunich, seeking to uncover her mysteries. Continuous excavation and restoration has been taking place since 1990 by the University of California (UCLA) under the direction of Dr. Richard Leventhal. Now, a wonderful new visitor's center has been built which displays a model of the site, photos, maps and graphical explanations of significant events in the development of the city.
We highly recommend that you make the steep, but short, climb to the top of "El Castillo." This vantage point provides a breathtaking, 360 degree, panoramic view over the jungle canopy of the Macal, Mopan and Belize River valleys, as well as a vast area of the Guatemalan Peten District, which is only a few miles away. You will also get a close look at the restored portions of two unique stucco friezes, which appear on the east and west sides of the upper portion of the pyramid.
Located in the Cayo District in western Belize, Xunantunich is easily accessible. Most of the lodging facilities in the area offer day trips to the site, which is very popular with all tourists in the region.
Photos Courtesy: Adrianna Vasquez
Original Article: http://www.belizereport.com/sites/xunan.html
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