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Unlike the hazy remnants of chiseled images you see at most other archaeological sites in Central America, Quiriguá has some that are seemingly untouched by winds and rain. They emerge from the rock faces in breathtaking detail. Quiriguá, a Mayan city that dates from the Classic period, is famous for the amazingly well-preserved stelae, or carved pillars, which are the largest yet discovered, and dwarf those of Copán, Honduras, some 50 km (30 mi) south. Construction began on the Guatemalan lowlands' most important Mayan ruins about AD 500. Its hieroglyphics tell its story: Quiriguá served at the time as a satellite state under the control of Copán. By the height of its power in the 7th century, Quiriguá had overpowered Copán, but just as quickly fell back into submissive status.
The stelae depict Quiriguá's ruling dynasty, especially the powerful Cauac Chan (Jade Sky), whose visage appears on nine of the structures circling the Great Plaza. Stela E, the largest of these, towers 10 meters (33 feet) high and weighs 65 tons. Several monuments, covered with interesting zoomorphic figures, still stand. The most interesting of these depicts Cauac Chan's conquest of Copán and the subsequent beheading of its then-ruler, 18 Rabbit. The remains of an acropolis and other structures have been partially restored.
In ancient times Quiriguá was an important Mayan trading center that stood on the banks of the Río Motagua (the river has since changed its course). The ruins are surrounded by a stand of rain forest—an untouched wilderness in the heart of banana country. Quiriguá still lives in the shadow of its better-known neighbor across the border, and of Tikal in the Petén in northern Guatemala, but it is one of Guatemala's most accessible Mayan sites. A small museum on-site gives insight into the history of Cauac Chan and his contemporaries.
- Address: 54 mi (90 km) southwest of Santo Tomás, El Estor
- Phone: No phone
- Cost: $10
- Hours: Daily 7:30--5
- Location: Quiriguá
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