Mundo 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 Mundo 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 originally believed.
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.