Exploring the rich history and modern development of Quintana Roo, Mexico

Discover the rich history of Quintana Roo, Mexico - a state known for its Mayan heritage, colonial vestiges, and marine paradise on the Caribbean Sea. Quintana Roo offers a unique blend of history, civilization, and modernism.

Exploring the rich history and modern development of Quintana Roo, Mexico
Mayan Culture and Tradition in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Photo by Francisco / Unsplash

Evoking the state of Quintana Roo, located within the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, leads us to accumulate retrospective images: the Mayan culture and its wisdom; the surprising computation of time achieved by its priests; the luxury that characterized its leaders, and the magnificence of temples, palaces, stelae and paintings that have endured through time as silent testimonies of a past that still jealously guards many of its ancestral secrets.

Later, the colonial vestiges remind us, among other things, of the frequent incursions of piracy in the XVII and XVIII centuries, which, avid for booty, ravaged the coasts of the Mexican Caribbean assaulting the Spanish galleons loaded with riches from the Spanish possessions of Central and South America.

Quintana Roo is a young State, possessing a millenary culture, which has reached an important modern development, a surprising fact if we take into account that only decades ago, this region was difficult to access, sparsely populated, and fundamentally known for the exploitation of chicle (gum).

Its birth as a Free and Sovereign State is the result of a series of historical events that began in the 19th century, a difficult period for Mexico since during that time the country experienced its War of Independence; the war with the United States of America in which it lost more than half of its original territory; the French Intervention and the Caste War that took place in Quintana Roo and the state of Yucatan.

The delimitation of the border between Mexico and Belize was agreed upon in 1893, by which time Quintana Roo was part of the state of Yucatan whose relations with the Central Government were not satisfactory. This fact led to delimiting the territorial extension of Yucatan, mainly due to its separatist aspiration, therefore, on January 16, 1902, Quintana Roo was constituted as a Territory of the Federation, with an area of 50,843 km2, having Santa Cruz de Bravo as its capital, which shortly after was transferred to Payo Obispo.

In 1913 the Territory was reincorporated again to the state of Yucatan, but that same year it recovered its rights; in 1931 the government of the Republic divided it in two, dividing it between Yucatan and Campeche and only the islands of Holbox, Mujeres and Cozumel continued to be federally administered.

In 1935, Quintana Roo recovered its status as a Federal Territory and a year later changed the name of its capital from Payo Obispo to Ciudad Chetumal. Finally, elevated in 1974 to the category of Free and Sovereign State of the Mexican Republic, the former Federal Territory of Quintana Roo exalts with its name the memory of an outstanding ideologist of the National Independence and forger of the Republic: Andrés Quintana Roo.

The qualities that distinguish the Caribbean Sea are known throughout the world. Specialized studies in geomorphology, oceanography, marine biology, and underwater archeology, among others, have described it extensively: its white and fine sandy coasts bordered by exuberant tropical vegetation; its reefs formed by gigantic coral banks; its islands and lagoons, some of which are protected as "sanctuaries" for wildlife; the pleasant temperature of its waters, which are so warm that they can be enjoyed by all.

The pleasant temperature of its waters, which allows an infinity of marine species of singular beauty to live in them -some of them unique in the world-, and the color that is so particular to them and that includes the most varied tonalities of blue and green, make the Caribbean Sea, especially the portion that corresponds to the Mexican Republic, one of the most beautiful seas on Earth.

This marine paradise is also the ideal place to practice most water sports, especially along the coast of the state of Quintana Roo. Along this coastline, one of the most important international hotel and tourist zones has developed, stretching from the proximity of the state of Yucatan to the border with Belize. Quintana Roo is culture, history, civilization, and modernism; it is also the sea, islands, lagoons, and jungle that come together to form an indelible memory.

Quintana Roo and the Mayan Culture

Twelve centuries ago, covering an area of approximately 325,000 km2, people reached the highest degree of civilization that Pre-Hispanic America has ever known. The territories that today correspond to the Mexican states of Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Campeche, and part of Tabasco and Chiapas were populated by the Mayas, who also occupied the territories corresponding to the republics of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Belize, distributed in three large natural areas: to the north the plains of Yucatan, to the center the Peten jungle and the basin of the Usumacinta, Grijalva, and Motagua rivers and the south, the highlands of Guatemala and Honduras.

The Maya culture achieved its apogee supported by a rigid social stratification at whose summit were the nobility and the high religious and military hierarchies, which exercised absolute power over the lower strata composed of merchants, artisans, farmers, and slaves. This form of organization allowed -or perhaps demanded- the highest level of refinement in the artistic expressions that produced, thus, architecture, whose best examples in the state of Quintana Roo are found in Tulum, Cobá, and Kohunlich, harmonized with the sculpture and painting with which temples and palaces were usually decorated. The minor arts such as pottery, weaving, featherwork, and the set of expressions that we could call "sumptuary Maya" admire those who observe them today in various museums.

One of the main achievements of the Mayan culture was the use of a symbol similar to our concept of zero, constantly assigning a value to numbers according to their position. The Old World had to wait until the 7th century A.D. for the Hindustani sages to arrive at the conception of zero within the decimal system of numeration.

Another extraordinary fact is the precision achieved in measuring time. Modern astronomy tells us that the tropical year has a length of 365.2422 days. It has been proven that the Mayan sages assigned a calculation of 365.2420 for that period, thus reaching exceptional precision.

The Mayas and the fauna

Animals were considered by the Maya as symbols associated with the forces of nature, cosmic levels, time, vital energies, and death. Part of these beliefs is still valid among the Mayas today.

For the Mayan culture, the great elements and the cosmic spaces were frequently represented by animals, thus, the earth, the sky, and the water were associated with some reptiles or diurnal birds; the bowels of the earth were represented by birds of prey, nocturnal birds or by the fearsome jaguar, which, considered as a god, was supposed to possess a divine spirit materialized in this feline.

Other animals were associated with some constellations, the Gemini constellation was called Ac-Ek, "Star Tortoise"; the Scorpion constellation was called Zin-Aan-Ek, "Star Scorpion". The planet Venus was linked to the wasps, designating it as Xux-Ek, "Star Wasp"; and the Sun was frequently represented with the head of a macaw and the body of a man.

For the Maya, birds were of particular importance, especially those with colorful plumage. Some of these animals were kept in captivity to take advantage of their normal change of feathers, in other cases they were captured to remove the most valuable ones and then released to continue their reproductive cycle, thus maintaining an adequate natural balance. The common species were used as food and their plumage occasionally served as a complement to some clothing.

Ancestors of humans, incarnations of part of the human spirit, and intermediaries with the gods, animals were protected by Izamná.