Monday, April 19, 2010

Corozal Town's Early History

Corozal Town of Today

To the extreme north in Belize you will find the town of Corozal which was founded in 1848 by refugees from the Maya Indian uprising against the Spanish in neighboring Yucatan. This uprising, known as the Caste War (from the Spanish "castas" or race), began as a war against the Spaniards, but it eventually became a war against the Mestizos. The Mestizos who are half Spanish and half Indian, had proven to be formidable allies of the Spaniards, and were thus mortal enemies of the Maya Indians.

A massacre at Bacalar, Mexico which was a Mestizo stronghold about thirty miles north of Corozal Town, finally led to the exodus of thousands of Mestizos from Bacalar and the surrounding areas in Mexico. Between 1848 and 1856 more than 10,000 Mestizo refugees crossed the Rio Hondo, the river that now serves as the boundary between Belize and Mexico. The immigrants sought refuge in northern Belize, and increased the population of Corozal Town to 4500. Mr. James Blake, a magistrate, let them settle on lands in the Corozal District and helped them to establish the new crop, sugar cane.

The Mestizo refugees were far from safe in Corozal Town as the Maya Indians from the Mexican base in Santa Cruz Bravo, which today is now Carrillo Puerto, made several incursions into Corozal Town. In defense, Corozal became a garrison town and Fort Barlee was built here in 1870. Today, the brick corner supports of the fort surrounds the post office complex of the buildings across from the central town square.

The immigrants brought with them Mestizo culture: Spanish and Yucatec Maya language, Catholicism and Maya folklore, the use of alcalde system, their family structure and way of life. Soon, there emerged a local replication of the society of the Yucatan within the boundaries of a country ruled by English expatriates.

Cerros Maya Ruin in Corozal

Across the bay from Corozal Town are the mounds of Cerros, the first Maya coastal trading center. Cerros is considered one of the most important late pre-classic Maya sites because it represented the first experiment with kingship in the Maya world. Cerros was important as a coastal trading center and expressed new forms of art and architecture that proved to be crucial for the classic Maya art and architecture. The remains include a number of temples, plazas, ball-courts, canals, and minor structures. Cerros’ tallest temple rises 21 meters above the plaza floor. The most interesting artifacts so far discovered are the five jade head pendants.

Santa Rita Maya Ruin in Corozal

Within Corozal Town can be found another Maya ruin from the fourteenth century AD. Known as Santa Rita, the pyramid site sits atop the remains of a Maya city that dominated the area for more than 2000 years. This site was important during the late Post-Classic Period and was occupied up to the time of the time of Spanish contact in the 1500’s. The largest building in the central core of Santa Rita has been excavated and consolidated, and open to the public. Archaeological excavations there have shown Santa Rita to be the ancient province of Chetumal, where a large part of the Post-Classic civilization once thrived at the time of the first Spanish attempt to conquer the Yucatec Mayas in the early 16th century. Burial sites rich in jewelry and artifacts have recently been unearthed there.

A sight worth seeing is the vibrant mural in the Town Hall. Painted by the Belizean-Mexican artist Manuel Villamore, it surrealistically depicts the rich history of Corozal.

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