Belize is widely known for its multitude of Mayan ruins, but we will oversee one of them in particular. We are talking about El Pilar, Belize which is an ancient Maya city found right near the border between Guatemala and Belize. The interesting thing to note about El Pilar is that it has a multitude of streams near its site as well as under the escarpment. This is a rare thing for any Mayan city, and that just adds to the uniqueness and beauty of this location also very popular for birds watching!
What is the origin of El Pilar’s name?
The name of El Pilar means watering basin, which is quite understandable if you consider the location of this ancient city. If you want to pinpoint the exact location of this ancient Mayan city, it’s safe to note that you can access it via San Ignacio as well as the Bullet Tree Falls. These are placed on the Belize River. Many underground streams are found here and that’s the reason why you will find an abundance of vegetation in this particular location. Again, this is understandable if you take into consideration the uniqueness of this place and the amazing benefits that it can deliver for any visitor.
When was El Pilar discovered?
Although El Pilar is an ancient Mayan city, its location kept it far away from prying eyes. It was safe for many years, in fact, it was the archaeologist named Anabel Ford that discovered it by accident in 1983. Simply put, she was doing the BRASS project, also known as the Belize River Archaeological survey.
The first reaction of the archeological community was impressive, especially if you take into consideration how few Mayan cities can be found nowadays, most of their ruins are gone by now. Seeing such ruins is interesting and unique for anyone, and you can imagine the array of emotions that went through the mind of those persons that first visited this place after a very long time.
According to the BRASS report written by Anabel Ford, it seems that the way these settlements are patterned might suggest that the community composition and its overall size might have been related to the nearby farms.
Since the overall region is humid, it offered the perfect way for people to sustain a farming lifestyle. Some might argue that this is the main reason why this location was chosen in the first place. There are multiple larger areas near El Pilar’s location which suggest that this city was primarily a farming city, among many other types of ventures and experiences. An interesting side note here would come in the fact that the Belize River connects El Pilar to the Tikal center. This might show us why a lot of trading and transportation was performed via the river, but there’s no obvious relevant data that might suggest such a thing.
El Pilar history
Anabel Ford issued an archaeological field survey excavation that provided people with a close eye on El Pilar and its overall location. The team created a map that included all the monuments, and they discovered the fact that El Pilar had a unique causeway or underground tunnel system. This was linking it to some of the other cities in the western and the eastern side!
The excavations performed at that time allowed the team to dig deeper into the region and they uncovered a major temple that was around 2000 years old. Ford is still working in this particular area while trying to discover all the other relevant information that might help the expedition. Ford and the team are in Lidar and they seek to accurately map the region.
Based on the expedition above, we know that the city grew quite a bit during the Middle Pre-classic period, which is sometime around 800 BC. This was showcased mostly by the smaller plazas and temples that were located near the Plaza Copal eastern temple. They continued to expand the civic area and, according to the expedition’s findings, the region reached its culminating point at around 1000 AD. Some state that, at this particular time, around 180000 people were living in the region.
The expedition has uncovered many temples, palaces and other buildings that comprised the civic area of El Pilar. Near those monuments, you could find the residence which was the heart and soul of the community. A particular elite Mayan house named Tzunu’un was mapped during the expedition, and it showed some unique, distinct features that gave us a distinct insight into how life was for the elite when compared to regular people at that time. In fact, this is the only archaeological house that you can visit at this time, with the others still being uncovered and investigated.
The house site has a forest garden, quite a peculiar find for sure but understandable, if you consider the location of this ancient city. It also shows that the Mayan people or at least their elite were focused on protecting the environment and nurturing the planet to the best of their capabilities.
How many findings are at El Pilar?
Although the region is known for its Mayan cities of a smaller amplitude, El Pilar is one of the largest findings for this area. And since continual work takes place from February to June each year, you can imagine that more and more ancient sites are found within El Pilar on a yearly basis.
The current findings amount to around 12 pyramids and 25 plazas. Some residential locations are kept under wraps for obvious purposes, but we can imagine that there are dozens of these units found within the forest.
Either way, this is more than triple the number of other pyramids and sites found in regions like Cahal Pech or Xunan. One of the reasons why this particular region might have been popular is its proximity to a water source and farming lands. As a result, it had all the thriving facilities and features needed to expand and better explore the region in all of its glory.
The site as a whole is a very impressive, distinct and unique historical location that will impress you right from the start. Since excavations are taking place all the time, we just get to know the region more and more as time progresses. But one thing is certain, new stuff gets uncovered all the time here, and archaeologist have just as much to learn as the tourists that come and visit this place. While the humidity in this area might bring in quite the challenge, you will be impressed with the sheer uniqueness of all findings and how well they hold. That’s especially true if you consider how many years have passed since the region was deserted and left by its original inhabitants.
Should you visit the El Pilar site?
While there are quite a lot of interesting places to visit in Belize, El Pilar should be on your radar at all times. Not only is it a very interesting place to check out, but it does provide you with an immense attention to detail and a great focus on results. It’s a very distinct, unique experience and that’s the main reason why coming here is a nice idea. Not only do you have the opportunity to enjoy some quality hiking moments, but the experience will be second to none all the time and the location on its own is well worth visiting for that reason alone. If you are a fan of unique visuals and incredible locations, you will find El Pilar to be a breathtaking, one of a kind place that will immerse you into an ancient world.
In fact, visiting this place will make you feel like a part of that world to begin with. When compared to other sites in the region, El Pilar remains pretty much the same when compared to its discovery date. The reason is simple, most of the structures that you can find here are still undergoing excavation, so you get to explore a region that’s still being uncovered by archaeology professionals.
You can find five different trail systems in El Pilar at this time. 3 of them are restricted only for the archaeologists, whereas you have two others that are suitable for the public. The two trails are interesting because they give you a good way to explore the forests in the region. Furthermore, being so integrated within the surrounding nature, This Mayan Site is an outstanding place for hiking and birding and which makes El Pilar so unique. Belize is home to more than 500 species of birds including endangered species such as the Scarlet Macaw, the Solitary Eagle and Ocellated Turkey to name only a few. Whether you are a seasoned birder or a beginner you are definitely going to love your bird watching experience as this area makes it for the best birding in Belize.
Visiting El Pilar is a great hiking experience. With lots of vegetation and the fact that this region isn’t that well-excavated does come with its set of challenges. However, if you visit El Pilar, you will be impressed with the beauty of this region and how impressive the entire location is in the first place. You should consider visiting this astounding, one of a kind place as it is one of the most impressive Mayan cities that you can find out there!