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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A History of Cozumel; From Maya Origins to Tourism

By Rocky Wilson
Author of Sharene:
Death: A Prerequisite For Life

A History of Cozumel; From Maya Origins to Tourism

The history of Cozumel, Mexico, settled shortly after the time of Jesus Christ, is replete with diversity ranging from Mayan inhabitants, Spanish conquest, disease, pirates, an island refuge from war, and crystalline waters that attract tourists from around the world.

Thought by Classic Period Mayans (300 -900 A.D.) to be sacred, where women were sent to pay homage to their fertility goddess, Ix Chei, the thirty -by-ten mile island of coralline limestone and sandy soils sits in the Caribbean Sea, just east of the Yucatan Peninsula.

In about 800 A.D., when the Mayan civilization is thought to have peaked, it’s estimated the population reached 14 million.

In 1519, Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes launched from Cozumel his five-year conquest of what remained of the Mayan Empire in the Yucatan, Guatemala, and western Honduras. Cortes not only destroyed many Mayan temples on the island, but left behind a smallpox epidemic that eventually left Cozumel uninhabited. Although pirates such as Jean Lafitte and Henry Morgan used the picturesque island as a base of operations in the 17th Century, it wasn’t until 1848 when Mayans revolted against Spanish landlords on the mainland that Cozumel again was populated by refugees from that bloody war.

For more than 100 years that followed, Cozumel remained a quiet, rural fishing community.

Then, in 1961, French explorer Jacques Cousteau discovered and told the world about the underwater paradise around Cozumel where scuba divers can see distances of up to a 250 feet in a coral wonderland. Cozumel now is a popular destination resort, especially for scuba divers.

Dates of interest in the history of Cozumel, Mexico, include:
* 300 A.D. First Mayan settlers

* 300-900 A.D. Ceremonial religious site; women from throughout empire come to honor fertility goddess, Ix Chei

* 1200 A.D. Becomes important trade route

* 1518 Spanish explorer Juan de Grijaiva arrives on island, conducts first Catholic service in Mexico

* 1519-1524 Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes destroys temples on Cozumel, then conquers the Mayan Empire; smallpox decimates population

* 17th Century Pirates Jean LaFitte and Henry Morgan raid Caribbean ships, using Cozumel as their base

* 1848 Caste War between Mayans and Spanish on mainland causes refugees to relocate to Cozumel

* 1961 Jacques Cousteau discovers island’s clear waters and helps open doors to island’s growing tourist trade

Visitors to Cozumel today can explore the largest reef system in the Americas at more than 600 miles in length, see as many as 250 different fish species, and possibly see the Toad fish, found nowhere else in the world. From 12 to 16 inches in length, the Toad fish’s claim to fame is its ability to catch and eat a fish faster than the blink of an eye.

Visitors wanting to experience the history of Cozumel, including historic Mayan sites on the mainland such as Chichen Itza and Coba, which still is being uncovered and includes the tallest Mayan temple, can take day trips from the island.

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