Background

The Maya arrived in the Yucatán about 1200 BC and built monumental stone structures during the centuries up to the end of the pre-Classic period (AD 250). Later they rebuilt their cities, but along different lines, probably due to the influence of the Toltecs, who arrived in the ninth and 10th centuries. Each city was autonomous and in rivalry with other cities.

The Spaniards found little to please them when they first arrived in the Yucatán: no gold, no concentration of natives; nevertheless Mérida was founded in 1542 and the few natives were handed over to the conquerors in encomiendas. The Spaniards found them difficult to exploit: even as late as 1847 there was a major revolt, fuelled by the inhumane conditions in the henequén (sisal) plantations. It was the expropriation of Maya communal lands that was the main source of discontent, however. In July 1847, a conspiracy against the Blancos or ruling classes from Mexico, was uncovered in Valladolid and one of its leaders, Manuel Antonio Ay, was shot. This precipitated a bloody war, known as the Guerra de Castas (Caste War) between the Maya and the Blancos. The first act was the massacre of all the non-Maya inhabitants of Tepich, south of Valladolid. The Maya took control of much of the Yucatán, laying siege to Mérida, only to abandon it to sow their crops in 1849. This allowed the governor of Yucatán to counterattack, ruthlessly driving the Maya into southern Quintana Roo. In Chan Santa Cruz (now named Felipe Carrillo Puerto), one of the Maya leaders, José María Barrera, accompanied by Manuel Nahuat, a ventriloquist, invented the 'talking cross', a cult that attracted thousands of followers. The sect, called Cruzob, established itself and renewed the resistance against the government from Mexico City. It was not until 1901 that the Mexican army retook the Cruzob's domain.

A useful website on the Yucatán is www.yucatantoday.com.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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