An historic Mayan site in Central America that was home to Mayan civilisations almost 2000 years ago isn’t the first place you’d expect a handrail to be constructed but sometimes history is no obstacle to safety and even ancient sites have to adapted for today’s modern world and the people who come to visit.
Xunantunich is located in Belize, about 80 miles west of the country’s capital Belize City, and just over half a mile from the border with Guatemala. The site is believed to have been a primary Mayan city between the 7th and 9th Centuries AD. The site centrepiece is El Castillo, a towering stone pyramid temple built in several stages around 800AD. The temple is the second-tallest structure in Belize, standing at 130 feet tall.
Xunantuich was the site of much archaeological interest during the latter part of the 20th century, mainly from British archaeologists. The site was partially ruined due to a seemingly unforseen disaster, most likely to be an earthquake, that probably signalled the end of the site as a populated settlement. During the 1990s, extensive restoration work was carried out in an attempt to bring the site back to its former glories.
In subsequent years, it has attracted thousands of tourists, many of whom are eager to make their way up the stone stairs to the top of the temple, though it’s not advisable for those with a fear of heights or who suffer from vertigo. While the upper sets of stairs now have handrails fitted for safety purposes, there is no protection against the sheer drops that occur at the various levels of the main structure, El Castillo.
Those not brave enough to go all the way to the top can at least admire the beautiful carvings etched into the sides of the pyramid. Most of them have eroded away but the east face carving can still be seen in all its wonder. Some even claim the site is inhabited by a ghost who takes her name after the site, which translates as “Stone Woman.”
Written by David Chapman of UK Stair Parts