World Maya events reach fever pitch as calendar end looms
A funny thing happened on the way to Dec. 21, 2012: The visions of
apocalypse that got the whole world counting down to the supposedly
fateful date turned into a celebration of Maya culture, past and
present. In Mexico, the World Maya resides in the Yucatan (Quintana Roo,
Yucatan and Campeche states) and Tabasco and Chiapas states, and the
swirl of festive events is reaching fever pitch.
The “end of the Maya calendar” is proving to be bigger than Christmas, and in Mexico that’s no mean feat. With an estimated 500
Maya-themed events taking place in the region between now and the end
of the year, it can be tough for a traveler looking south for some Maya
immersion to know where to start. Here are some suggestions, but they
only scratch the surface; leave room to make your own discoveries.
New monuments to the Maya
Two long-planned major museums dedicated to showcasing the Maya
legacy opened last month, long after their planned debut dates but in
time for the 2012 hoopla. With their similar names and similar goals –
to exhibit artifacts from the ancient Maya civilization in modern,
state-of-the art galleries – the casual observer can be excused for
confusing the two.
The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya (Great
Museum of the Maya World) in Merida, Yucatan’s capital, holds
anthropological, historical and archaeological displays that exiting
Yucatan Governor Ivonne Ortega described as fulfilling “a pending debt
with our Mayan ancestors, our culture, with this land and with
ourselves.” Employing more than 6,000 tons of steel – an Eiffel Tower’s
worth – in an aggressively modern and highly technological design, it
examines Maya culture both past and present.
Hundreds of ancient artifacts are included in its cavernous showrooms
– four for permanent exhibitions and another for temporary displays.
Many pieces came from the galleries and storerooms of the Regional
Museum of Anthropology and History in the majestic Palacio Canton, built
in Merida’s affluent, Eurocentric period during the reign of Porfirio
Diaz in the early 1900s. Palacio Canton has narrowed its focus to
regional history. Artist Richemont Xavier, known for light and sound
shows he has designed in Europe, has created a special show for the new
museum, which also includes a botanical garden, a 350-seat theater, a
child care center, a cafeteria and a shop. The museum occupies 5 square
miles adjacent to Merida’s convention center on the Merida-Progreso
Highway/Calle 60 in the northernmost reaches of the city.
The Palacio de la Civilizacion Maya (Palace
of Maya civilization) was built on a nearly 1,000-acre site in the
impoverished village of Yaxcaba, about 8 miles southwest of Chichen
Itza, primarily to house artifacts excavated from the famous “World
Wonder” ruins’ Cenote Sagrada (Sacred Well). Many of the objects have
never been on public display before. Like the Merida museum, this one
also contains relics from the former Museum of Anthropology in Merida.
But the “palace’s” most notable resident, and its centerpiece, is the Mujer de las Palmas (Woman
of the Palms). Recovered from a cenote near Tulum in 2002, it is as
much as 13,000 years old – the oldest skeleton found yet on the Yucatan
Peninsula. A scientific reconstruction of the well-preserved skeleton in
2010 has shifted theories about the origin of the Maya, suggesting they
migrated from a much broader area of Asia, extending to Indonesia, than
Taking advantage of Yaxcaba’s topography, the museum is anchored by
the town’s cenote, which the Maya regarded as sacred doorways to the
underworld, and a ceiba tree, their symbol of the link between heaven,
earth and the underworld. The long, white path tying the museum’s
facilities together represents a sac-be, the raised limestone causeways
that connected the ancient Maya cities.