Cihuatán – New Homes on an Old City

Known as El Salvador’s ancient city, Cihuatán, an archeological site just north of San Salvador, the country’s capital. Cihuatán was not discovered until 1878, although serious archeological work did not begin until the 1930s. Experts regard it as one of Central America’s most valuable archeological treasures although it remains largely unknown. Although very little conclusive research has been completed about the nature of the city of Cihuatán, archeologists suggest that it was inhabited by a mix of Mayan (after the fall of the Mayan empire), Lenca and Xinca people. Estimates indicate that the city was built around the ninth century, and destroyed a little more than a century later. Constructed shortly after Chichen Itza in the Yucatan, the size and grandeur of Cihaután rivals that of famous Mexican ruins.

The ancient city has many temples around which residential areas were centered. The central part of the city was contained by a stone wall to protect it from invaders. Each temple honored different gods of the natural world. There are several huge pyramids as well. The inhabitants had a fairly advanced society with a palace to house its ruler and sporting and recreation fields and courts. Archeologists have found several obsidian arrowheads and knife blades.

In 1999, El Salvador’s National Foundation of Archeology planned and funded a ten-year mission to excavate the city. American archaeologists, Paul Amaroli and Karen Bruhns, currently lead the excavation efforts. The government owns 120 of the 420 blocks of land – these plots are protected as a national park.

This year, the owner of the privately owned land adjacent to the park announced plans to build 37 “temporary” homes for victims of Hurrican Ida. Officials at the national park report that instead of the “temporary homes” the owner appears to have built a dozen permanent homes, where refugees from Hurricane Ida have taken shelter.

Last month, the National Foundation of Archeology in El Salvador (FUNDAR in Spanish) denounced the construction of these houses, arguing that though the land is privately owned, it falls within protected area and within their jurisdiction. They are concerned because in building the houses, the landowner destroyed several of the ancient platforms on which ancient homes were built, and destroyed unexcavated archeological sites.

FUNDAR officials argue that “the destruction in Cihuatán violates the Special Law for the Protection of Cultural Herritage of El Salvador and the Penal Code (articles 222, 223, 225, and 253) as it enjoys status as a National Monument.”  The mayor of Agilares, who is promoting the housing project, commented on Salvadoran television that the previous Secretary of Culture, Señora Breniy Cuenca authorized the housing project.

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