Belize City & Altún Há
With about 70000 inhabitants, Belize City at the mouth of the Belize River is by far the largest city of the small country.
During the colonial era, Belize City was the capital of British Honduras until 1970, when the seat of government of independent Belize was transferred to the newly founded Belmopan.
Despite the devastating hurricanes of 1931 and 1961, each of which almost completely destroyed the city, its status as the country’s most important port, transportation hub and economic center remained unchallenged.
Geographically, Belize City is divided into two parts by Haulover Creek, which is spanned by three bridges: While the Southside is home to shops and mostly poor neighborhoods, the Northside, with its Fort George and King’s Park neighborhoods, is home to the better neighborhoods and hotels.
There are no sightseeings in Belize City in the conventional meaning. The most interesting buildings and landmarks are the colonial city hall, the Queen Street Baptist Church, the old US embassy as well as the lighthouse at Fort George harbour. The terminal of the “Fort Street Tourism Village” was created for the passengers of the berthing cruise ships.
The required stop in Belize City during a Belize trip can be easily combined with a visit to the Mayan ruins of Altún Há.
Altún Há – as the contemporary artificial name given to the Mayan town located about 45 kilometres north of Belize City on the Old Northern Highway – means “water that comes out of the stone”, and is the translation of the neighbouring village name Rockstone Pond.
Today it is believed that Altún Há was inhabited as early as 250 BC and rich jade and obsidian finds suggest that it was an important trading centre between the coast and the hinterland.
The core of the complex is formed by two central palm-covered squares surrounded by temples. The larger one, called ‘Plaza A’, was the site of a mysterious tomb beneath the ‘Temple of the Green Tomb’ named after him. Among the grave goods which suggest that the buried person was a senior priest were jade, jewellery, flints, skins and the remains of a codex which could no longer be deciphered.
By far the most spectacular find in Altún Há to date is the legendary jade head of the sun god Kinich Ahau (K’inich Ajaw). With a weight of 4.42 kg and a height of 14.9 cm, it represents the largest preserved jade sculpture of the Mundo Maya and is considered Belize’s crown jewel.
It was discovered in 1968 by the Belizeans Wilhelm Leslie and Winston Herbert from the excavation team of David Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum of Canada in a (king’s?) tomb under the temple of the brick altar (structure B4) from the 7th A.D. century.
Unfortunately, the famous jade head remains hidden to the public, at best it is exhibited on a daily basis in the “Museum of Belize” opened in 2002.
The temple of the brick altar, built in eight construction phases, is the largest of the Altún Há buildings. It is believed that the religious activities of the local community were concentrated here.
An image of the temple can be found both on the two-dollar note and on Belize’s most famous beer, the Belikin.