The Maya site of Copan near the border with Guatemala has been occupied since at least 1200 BC to 900 AD and then abandoned to the forest
The town of Trujillo, founded in 1525 near the spot where Columbus landed in 1502, was the first capital of Honduras. The capital was moved to the healthier Comayagua in the cooler highlands in 1537 and to Tegucigalpa in 1880.
While the Spanish were developing silver and gold mining in the interior, British pirates used the Bay Islands and the coast as bases for their operations against the galleons and British settlers exploited the hard wood forests of the coast with slave labor and later with the Garifuna Black Caribs from Roatán until 1859 when they relinquished the area to Honduras.
After independence from Spain in 1821, Honduras was part of the short lived Mexican Empire, then of the Central American Federation led by the Honduran Liberal Francisco Morazán until it declared itself independent in 1838.
Independent Honduras was not spared the violent conflicts. common to the ex Spanish colonies, between Ultra Conservatives defending the the Spanish Absolutist Catholic tradition from the reforms promoted by equally virulent Liberals influenced by the French and American Revolutions. Power alternated between the two factions and the constitution was rewritten 17 times between 1821 and 1982.
At the turn of the last century, refrigerated banana boats allowed the development of a huge market for this fruit in the USA and Europe and US companies obtained considerable land grants from the Honduran government. By 1918, 75% of all banana lands were held by US companies whose disproportionate influence on the government led to calling the country a "banana republic". The role of the US Marines, that were sent in 1911 and 1912 to "protect US investments", cannot be overlooked in the establishment of that situation.
In 1957 a new constitution put the military beyond the control of the civilian government. Since then, coup followed coup until the return of civilian government in 1982. The role of the USA in running Honduras during the Contra War against Nicaragua's Sandinista government cannot be minimised. Finally, it is only in 1999 that a civilian Ministry of Defence was instituted to regain civil authority over the armed forces.
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I went directly to the Hotel Iberia where I had stayed in 1993. It was just a block from the 1732 "Iglesia de Los Dolores" in the city centre, a safer area than where the busses stop in lower town Comayagüela.
Then I went to see the nearby Plaza Morazan and the Cathedral built between 1765 and 1782. I arrived on a Saturday and the plaza was filled with people out for a walk.
Many had gone into the Cathedral to pray, to look at the intricate gold and silver altar or maybe just to rest their feet like me.
A lot of young men were just loitering, looking at the world go by. Unemployment is high in Honduras like everywhere else in Central America. That's why you have to watch yourself, especially in isolated places and after dark.
I stayed a few days visiting museums, reading and doing my usual traveller's chores such as getting photos developed, writing dates and details on the back and mailing them back home. I take more than a thousand photos on a trip. There is no way I could remember all the dates, places and names if I waited to get home to get them developed. Also, all these photos weigh several 3 kilos; sending them home in lots of about 200 along with all the books and documentation I gather helps to keep my backpack under 10 KGs.
The bus for the 4 hour ride from Tegucigalpa was not as comfortable as the Tica bus but it was better than an ex school bus. The views driving through the mountains were stupendous.
I walked up to the Parque Central and took a room in the nearby Hotel Nilo for 10 $US.
It was now midweek and here also there were a lot of unemployed young men loitering around the Parque Central with nothing to do. No wonder most shops hire private armed guards to protect them from robbery.
Here is the city hall, across the park, opposite the Cathedral.
I found the archaeological museum interesting. Visiting museums was important for me because the main reason for the Central American leg of this trip was to learn something about the fabulous Maya culture.
It is a pity that what was left of it when the Spanish arrived was systematically eradicated by a fanatical Catholic Clergy. That was a crime against humanity and I feel personally victimised by that cultural genocide because I am now being deprived of the information contained in the books that were burned five centuries ago.
This time I had to board a beat-up second hand school bus for the four hour drive to the village of Copán Ruinas next to the important Maya site of Copán.
Copán Ruinas is a small but prosperous and well maintained village that thrives on tourists attracted by the nearby Copán ruins. It is called Copán Ruinas to distinguish it from the nearby Santa Rita de Copán and from Santa Rosa de Copán 100 kms away.
I stayed at the pleasant Hotel Los Gemelos for only 5.30 $US.
The local indigenous population descend directly from the Chorti Mayas that built the great religious centre of Copán more than 1200 years ago. That explains why the facial features of the young man on the left below (receding forehead, large curved nose and heavy lips) are so much alike those of the faces represented in stone or on murals in Maya sites.
I could not resist the bright colours of this fine parrot greeting visitors at the entrance of the site.
This idealised model gives a good idea of what the Copán ceremonial complex must have looked like when still covered with red stucco in its heyday during the classic period before it was abandoned in the mid 9th century.
The first settlements in the Copán valley date from 1200 BC and graves showing Olmec influence have been dated to around 900 to 600 BC. Copán's first king that can be identified, Mah K'ina Yak K'uk Mo, was a great shaman that ruled from 426 to 435 and was given quasi divine status by his dynastic successors. The last king, U Cit Tok, acquired the throne in 822 but his fate is unknown as the organised community of Copán disintegrated for reasons unknown so-far.The neighbouring land was nevertheless still cultivated during more than three centuries before the jungle reclaimed the region.
The pyramids and temples of Copán were built over earlier structures like temples everywhere in Mezo America.
The centre piece of the Copán museum is this reproduction of the the temple, called Rosalita, over which the existing "structure 16" was constructed. Rosalita, discovered by tunnelling in 1989, was erected in 571 AD over an earlier temple called Margarita built around 420. There are two still older structures underneath Margarita, one of which could be the tomb of the first Copán king.
Structure 16 is the large pyramid with a rectangular temple on top, seen in the upper right corner of the model shown in the previous photo.
These intricate sculptures were fixed on the walls they decorated by the large tenon protruding from their back.
It must be remembered, while visiting Maya sites, that the use of vivid colours heightened the dramatic effect of the decorative figures.
I used the term "decorative" but I think that the intent was more to impress and terrorise the subjects of the theocracy than to decorate the temples.
This is the original sacrificial altar that stood in front of structure 16 in the west plaza (it was replaced by a replica). Created for Yax Pac, the penultimate king who ruled from 763 to 820, it shows Copán's 16 great kings.
The two stelae below in Copán's Great Plaza (left B, right 3) portray the 13th ruler, called "King 18 Rabbit", who ruled from 695 to 735. The long calendar dates sculpted on stelae have been invaluable to reconstruct Mayan history.
This pyramid in the Great Plaza is called Temple 4 but the temple that should be on top is missing.
The great ball court in Copán's Central Plaza is the second largest after the huge one in Chichén Itzá.
The awning in the left background protects the famous Hieroglyphic Stairway built by the 15th ruler (Smoke Shell). It records the history of Copán on the faces of 63 stone steps. Unfortunately some of the stones were jumbled and parts of the story were lost.
The ruined masonry hill in the far background forms the platform of the Temple of the Inscriptions.
Below left, the Great Hieroglyphic Stairway and on the right, a detail of the corbeled arches used by the Maya who had not discovered the secret of the true keystone arch.
This picture, taken from the ridge next to the Temple of the Inscriptions, shows the Great Ball Court and part of the awning over the Hieroglyphic Stairway.
Just a few steps further along the ridge is the "Popol Nah" or council house where meetings of the ruling elite are thought to have been held.
This picture, taken from the east ridge of the East Plaza shows the "Popol Nah" in the centre and the ruins of Temple 11 on the right.
Looking west from the same ridge one sees the back side of structure 16 and a group of tourists at the entrance of the tunnel leading to the Rosalita temple inside the huge mound.
Here is the other side of structure 16 with another entrance to the tunnel and a copy of the famous Altar Q in front.
This picture of the West Plaza shows Altar Q again with the Temple of the Inscriptions in the background.
Finally, this gruesome "decoration" of the Temple of Inscriptions confirms my thesis that sculptures were meant more to strike awe in the minds of believers than to beautify their place of worship.
From Copán, I took a pickup truck to the Guatemala border, an ex school bus to Chiquimula and finally another bus to Guatemala City. I did not visit El Salvador this year but I am showing pictures of my 1993 trip in that country in order to include more photos of Maya ruins in this series.