Excavated in the Cayo District of Belize, Caracol or El Caracol refers to a large ancient Maya site situated at 25 miles south of Xunantunich. Perched at 1500 feet from the sea level at the base of the Maya Mountains, the site was found in 1930’s and revived in the 1950’s.
According to the survey, Caracol was famous as a prime site of ceremonial activities when the Mayan Civilization flourished here. Not only this, but it also hold utmost political significance during its Classic Period.
As it was quite arduous to reach the site, Caracol continued to be covered in the forest as an unidentified site until 1985. It was only then it got its recognition and that now it is becoming a famous tourist site. The name of the site is a Spanish word meaning spirals on the snail’s shell attributing here to the spiral-shaped route with many twists and turns approaching the site. This name was given later indicating that it was not given by the Mayans certainly.
Among all the Mayan sites, Caracol is one of the largest one of that kind and the largest in Belize. How important it was to the Maya civilization is indicated by its size, large architectural work, the enormous series of monuments, and the visual charm of the edifices.
According to the archaeologists, the ancient Caracol had its first settlement as early as in 1200 BC. Then, the town flourished to be among the largest Maya cities and highest population. However, the bulk of construction only took place in the Maya Classic period (200 to 900 A.D.) wherein more than 40 monuments belong to the period between 485 CE to 889 CE under the eras of the Classic Choltian rulers of the Lowland Maya.
As per the found archaeological and hieroglyphical evidences, Caracol was at its ridge point during the Classic Period. The different findings discovered here have made the experts realized that among all the major Mayan sites, Caracol can solve many doubts and answer many questions related to the ascent and descent of the civilization.
There is only a single road leading to Caracol whose last ten miles are cobbled and takes you to the Western Highway between San Ignacio and Belmopan.
The core site is the home of some 20 important plazas that are encircled by temples. Out of these temples, the largest one is named as Caana, which means a room with a view in the language of Maya. Rising some 145 feet from the forest floor and also called as the sky palace, the reason why it is so named is due to the fact that one can have a magnificent vista of the surrounding forest and other edifices in the area from its summit.
The central zone of Caracol is the enormous series of causeways that takes you as far as up to 1 to 3 km from the core site. Passing through the farming areas, the experts believe that these causeways might have proved to be the good medium of communication for the extensive population. This is because the settlements holding the population are known to exist along the seven causeways, which were permanent and quite dense. Unlike to the city center, there are no big pyramids found on any of these causeways, rather very detailed acropolis constructions are seen still under dense bush on both the sides.
The archaeologists have also found a detailed carved ball-court marker that belongs to the end of the Early Classic Period. A mention about the most powerful city of the Maya civilization named Tikal is carved on this altar. This discovery is among the most exposed finds of the archaeology here. On this marker, the markings indicate a victory of armed forces over Tikal, which is today over 60 miles away from Caracol. On the contrary, some say it to signify a vital VIP from Tikal.