An amazing journey back in time to observe the life of the ancient Mayans, petrified under the volcano
The remains of the Mayan civilization appear between volcanoes and coffee, which flourished in El Salvador trading with all the great empires of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica.
In addition to imposing ceremonial centers, El Salvador offers a rare look at the daily life of the ancient Mayans, hidden for centuries. As in ancient Pompeii, time was buried in Joya de Ceren under the ashes of a violent volcanic eruption and now a fascinating excavation allows us to look through a window into the past.
Access the main archaeological resources
by clicking on the map
Very close to the northwest of the city of San Miguel is found the beautiful village of Quelepa, where the Ruins of Quelepa are located. Located along the San Esteban River, this predominantly Lenca archaeological site is made up of approximately 40 structures in an area of one-half square kilometer.
One of the main vestiges is an enormous piece of stone set in a grid-like pattern, recorded with bas-reliefs on its four sides, known as the "Altar of the Jaguar," because it represents heads of that feline.
It is thought that the polychrome Quelepa fine-paste ceramic represents familiarity with fine-orange-style pottery; the same influences were observed in hatchets, yokes and anthropomorphic images.
At the end of the Late Classic period, around the year 1000 A.D., Quelepa began to be abandoned. During the conquest and the colonization, no one knew of these vestiges.
The archaeological site of Santa Leticia lies at an altitude of 1400 meters above sea level in a mountainside where coffee is grown in Cerrito de Apaneca (a volcanic range in the Ahuachapán Department). The complete archaeological area covers an approximate area of 15 hectares, which includes mounds, an artificial terrace and three distinct "Gordito" or "Potbelly" monuments, the smallest of which weighs 14,000 lbs. The middle-sized one weighs 20,000 lbs and the largest 21,000.
"During the Pre-Classic period, around 500 B.C., a significant demographic expansion took place, especially in the areas lower than 1000 meters above sea level. It was at that moment that the Santa Leticia settlement was developed, bringing with it significant cultural growth, given the expansion of contact among the various communities, one of them establishing cultural spheres integrated by Santa Leticia, Chalchuapa and Atiquizaya." There is a great number of ceramics linked with Chalchuapa and Kaminaljuyú.
Due to its location among the mountains, this site was probably the site of pilgrimages for western inhabitants in the Late Pre-Classic period.
There were more than 30 visible mounds at Cara Sucia, and at least the largest ones were constructed during the peak of the site, following the guidelines of the Cotzumalhuapa architecture. As in many sites of that culture, the largest structure of Cara Sucia is an acropolis that supports several buildings. There is a ball court attached to a side of the acropolis and another at the end of a terrace. The site does not have a large plaza, but several small plazas can be seen.
The buildings consist of landfills, covered by rock from the neighboring Cara Sucia River, carefully selected to obtain a more-or-less uniform diameter. It is unknown whether plaster was then applied. The structures supported by the pyramids and platforms were made of adobe. Excavations on the acropolis exposed the remains of a burnt adobe structure, from which two (corrected) dates were obtained of 920 A.D. This coincides approximately with the other evidence available on the date when the site was abandoned.
As the most reliable sources indicate, this pre-Columbian settlement has always been known by the name of Cihuatan, a Nahuatl word that means the "Place of women" and, according to previous studies, it was occupied by various groups of people in different times, the final phase of occupation in the Post-Classic period being the most important one and the one most investigated, since it happened immediately prior to the conquest.
The remains found there are scattered throughout a fairly large area, which may amount to a size of 80 blocks, i.e., 55 hectares, and even though this place has not been fully explored, the surveillance and studies performed so far, especially the ceramics found, have allowed a bit more to be known about the characteristics of the building groups, as well as the type of society and a good deal about the customs and artistic expression of the cultures that were developed there. Currently, we know of the existence of two large religious architectural complexes that are: the western ceremonial center and the eastern ceremonial center, each located at the ends of different terrain from the other, and each building group has different characteristics.
In this section, an important fortified section should be pointed out that, due to its size, seems to be one of the traditional ball playing patios that were built both for amusement and as a sort of religious rite among the indigenous people. These places are called "tlatchtli." They have an approximate area of 60 meters in length by 35 meters in width. The main pyramid has a height of 12 meters with a base of 36 meters per side. Furthermore, there is a series of steps that possibly continued on to other structures that have been lost, but whose function could be deduced by examining another vestige, because the greater part of the area has not been studied. Eastern ceremonial center: seems to be of a greater size than the previous one. Fragments of ceramic have been found frequently on the surface of the grounds.
In any case, various levels are formed that go below the banks of the Acelhuate River, to the east of the site, where a fertile valley begins where corn and sugarcane are grown. This area is the least defined and there is relatively little information available, because aerial photos and the observation of mounds and other building remains allow the magnitude of this ceremonial center to be ascertained.
This archaeological site is found 36 kilometers to the north of the city of San Salvador, located between Carretera Troncal del Norte and the Acelhuate River, 4 kilometers from the city of Aguilares.
The investigations and excavations at San Andrés have revealed that this was the political/ceremonial, and perhaps even commercial, center, consisting of an impressive indigenous acropolis.
The archaeological findings of San Andrés demonstrate that the settlement of San Andrés had strong contacts with the Copán and Teotihuacán civilization. It also received commercial goods from places as far away as the current Petén territories in Guatemala and Belize. This archaeological site was founded in 1986 and its facilities increased in 1997.
It has a museum distributed into three permanent exhibition rooms, two dealing with the archeology that show the geographic context of the area and the on-site investigations and the third dealing with the colonial period.
The archaeological site of San Andrés is 32 kilometers from San Salvador and is one of the most important vestiges of the region's Pre-Hispanic period.
Tazumal Archaeological Site
Tazumal, a "place where spirits are consumed" in the Nahuatl/Quiche language, is located in the heart of the municipality of Chalchuapa. This area is inside the western archaeological area with an approximate size of 10 km2 and is where other places of equal historical value, such as Casa Blanca, El Trapiche and other neighboring areas, can also be found.
This site comprises a series of structures that were the scene of an important and sophisticated Mayan settlement that existed around the years 100 to 1200 A.D., was related to Copán and had major Teotihuacan and Toltec influences.
The building is in the southeastern Mayan style, created with rock and mud, which is then covered with mud plaster. In the '40s, as part of a restoration project, forty structures were restored with cement.
Eighty kilometers from San Salvador, Tazumal is a unique site that highlights the footprints of the indigenous civilization that dominated our country prior to the colonial era.
Joya de Cerén
Joya de Cerén is a Pre-Columbian site in El Salvador, located in the La Libertad Department, that preserves the daily life of the indigenous settlements prior to the Spanish conquest and which was accidentally discovered in 1976.
This is one of the two most important archaeological sites within Mesoamerica, because it shows how life was for the people. Many call it the "Pompeii of the Americas" in comparison to the city located in Italy.
The path is composed of three areas of excavation, where ten separate structures can be seen. Some dormitories can be seen there, as well as a cooking area where vessels with food remains and clay plates can be found, as well as cellars and fields of limited crops with wooden fences. You can also see the structure where it is believed that religious acts, rites and consultations to the shaman or community leader were performed, as well as the house of people who enjoyed authority in the settlement.
The elegant name of this archaeological site is due to the area of the property that was found where Casa Blanca is currently located. This park has an area of 10 blocks, which are a national heritage.
Casa Blanca forms part of an archaeological complex that covers some 6 square kilometers and encompasses six centers: Tazumal, El Trapiche, Victoria, Laguna Seca, Laguna Cuzcachapa and Casa Blanca.
The discoveries found at this archaeological site can be detailed as follows: in the deepest excavations – 4 meters above ground level – the cement of the first erected temples, which date back to the Pre-Classic period, i.e., buildings constructed around 1500 B.C., was uncovered from underneath the thick layers of volcanic ash. And in the lower-depth trenches, there appear the vestiges of the Nahuan cultures immediately upon the arrival of the Spanish to the American continent in the 15th Century. Hundreds of pounds of pottery and ceramics, stone sculptures and obsidian knives were extracted from the excavations. Some were selected from among these for restoration, which are being exhibited in the park museum.
The park has an exhibitions museum with numerous articles found in the excavations, including four stone carvings over one meter in height, which were found at the base of the mounds. The park also has an indigo-dying store and trained guides who can help you when you visit the park.