Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Mayan Culture and the Ruins of San Gervasio

By Jennifer Uhlarik
The Mayan Calendar. In the center is the goddess Ixchel.
Many of us became interested in the ancient Mayan culture a few years ago, due to the speculation
that the world would end on December 21, 2012. These speculations were based on the fact that the Mayan Calendar, which was known to be quite accurate in past predictions, ended on that date. Obviously, we are still here, and the interest in the Mayans seems to have died down again.

My husband Dave and I outside
the San Gervasio ruins, posing with
a woman in Mayan costume

However, my husband and I both love history, and on a recent Caribbean cruise we jumped at the chance to see some of the Mayan Ruins of Mexico. We selected a shore excursion to San Gervasio, located in Cozumel, and found the information our guide shared with us to be truly interesting. I thought you might like to hear some of what we learned about the Mayan culture and the San Gervasio ruins.

Ixchel, the Mayan
goddess of fertility
Prior to the influence of the Spanish, San Gervasio was called Tantun Cuzamil, which translates to Flat Rock in the Place of the Swallows. While many of the other Mayan ruins like Chichen Itza or Tulum were dedicated to human sacrifices meant to please the thirteen Mayan gods, San Gervasio was different. This location was where Mayan women would come to worship Ixchel, the goddess of fertility and healing. Mayan women would take pilgrimages to this locale at least once in their lifetime, bearing gifts for the goddess in the hopes she would bless them with a fruitful marriage. Also, as expectant mothers neared the end of their pregnancies, those who could would come to San Gervasio in order to bring their children in to the world while surrounded by other women. Our tour guide told us that this location was selected because they found natural wells or cenotes that would fill with fresh water. The expectant mothers would climb down into these wells and rest in the life-giving waters.
One of the large cenotes found at San Gervasio. 

Among the structures at San Gervasio, there is an arch, which signified the entrance to the shrine. A stone pathway leads from the coastal areas of Cozumel miles away to this archway, and on into the center of the ruins. The underside of the arch was interesting, in that it was formed like an inverted staircase, a building style that was common to the eastern coast of Cozumel. The Mayans would leave gifts and offerings to Ixchel at the entrance before entering the sanctuary of San Gervasio.

The Arch, with stone pathway--the ancient entrance to San Gervasio.
Another structure is known as “Manitas,” or Little Hands. It got its name because of several red handprints on one of the walls. The structure’s purpose is not clear—some say it may have been a residence while others say it was for ceremonial purposes.
Manitas--one of the structures at San Gervasio. It got it's name from the several red handprints on the face of the building.
One is visible where the red arrow is pointing.

Around an area known as the Central Plaza, there were several buildings. I wasn’t able to photograph them all, but here you can see the backside of a structure known as “The Columns.” It contains seven columns of stone, with a bench and altar area in the center, as well as a place for burials along the sides of the building.

The back side of the building known as The Pillars.
Under one large thatched roof, two structures stood. On the right side is “The Murals,” a building that contained hand-painted geometric designs in blue, red, ochre, and black. To the left was “The Alamo,” which contained an altar where offerings of worship could be left. Our tour guide explained that the Murals was likely the shrine to the goddess Ixchel, and the Alamo was likely the shrine for the god Itzamna.

The Murals

The Alamo

There were several other ruins around this Central Plaza, but our tour didn’t have time to hear about them all. After learning about The Murals and The Alamo, we were given free time to walk around on our own or explore the gift shops at the front of the park. As we walked around a bit more, I became fascinated with the wildlife. I saw a hummingbird, which I wasn’t quick enough to capture on film, as well as two large iguanas sunning themselves on the ruins of two of the Central Plaza buildings.
Iguanas were everywhere. This one was sunning himself
atop one of the ancient buildings.

This was a second iguana on another building
just across the walkway from the first.

Overall, this was the highlight of our trip. Our tour guide was a wealth of information who made the history of the location come alive. If you get the chance to visit San Gervasio, I highly recommend it.

Now it’s your turn: Have you visited any Mayan Ruins? If so, which one(s)? If not, what other cultures are you interested, and have you had the opportunity to visit any locales important to that culture?

Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won five writing competitions and finaled in two other competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenaged son, and four fur children.


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  1. What a neat excursion! I love visiting historical sites. Loved the fascinating pictures!

    1. This certainly was a neat excursion, Vickie! Our guide was very knowledgeable, as his father had been a guide at various Mayan ruins from the time he was a child, and he often tagged along with his dad's groups. He gave us so much information that I couldn't possibly begin to put it all into the post above.

  2. Hi Jennifer. I've been interested in the Mayan culture since I read Captain from Castile when I was a teenager, then National Geographic magazine had some awesome pictures of Mayan ruins. I have visited Tulum, some Mayan ruins in Cancun and also climbed a Mayan temple in the jungles of Belize. They're awesome.

    1. Hi Marilyn, we really would have liked to go to either Tulum or Chichen Itza, but the excursions required an hour by high-speed ferry, and two hours by bus to reach them...just to have an hour in the ruins. It hardly seemed worth it. :( I'm betting that temple in Belize was really something to see!

  3. Those are incredible ruins. Thanks for sharing. Sm. Wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed seeing them, Sharon. Thank you for stopping by!