If you were ever lucky enough to take an Ancient History class at primary school, you will probably know that the Ancient Mayans (more commonly known as the Aztecs), came from Mexico, and were the rulers before the Spanish arrived in the 16th century. When we think about the Aztecs, we think about towering pyramids, gruesome sacrifices and a generally un-civilized society.
What I found out while exploring ruins in Mexico was that the ‘Aztecs’ were not as un-civilized as we make them out to be. They had a pretty-standard hierarchical system- a ruler, followed by officials, followed by workers. The rulers in-fact helped organize agriculture and industry, and the Mayans ended up creating some amazing new things including chocolate (in hard and drinking form) and new forms of architecture.
We arrived early at the site, as we knew it quickly became crowded. There was a large parking area, and lots of shops and hotels surrounding the entrance to the site. It looked as though it had been designed for tourists – there was a Starbucks and several taco restaurants – and I was a little worried what we were about to see was not what Mexico was really like. Luckily, once we had entered the site, we saw all the conservation work that was being done, and I was pleased to see that the ruins had been left how they were meant to look.
The ruins were beautiful – towering temples were surrounded by beautiful small town houses etc. The main temple was really imposing, with a grand staircase leading up to a focal point where, famously, sacrifices to the gods would take place.
The ruins were right on the coast, with the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea beneath them. The beach in-front of the ruins was beautiful, hence the name playa paraioso (paradise beach). The sea was a clear-turquoise blue, and the water was cooling and refreshing, as it was such a hot day.