Nestled between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize sits as the northernmost country in Central America. Like many countries in the region, Belize can trace its history back for thousands of years to some of its very first people to its tangle with colonialism and the march towards all things modern. While many of its most historic sites did not make it into the modern age, Belize treasures what history remains. Even now the country still has historic sites that are not yet all the way excavated, making Belize a discovery in the making.
Baron Bliss Lighthouse
Although one of the most recognized landmarks in Belize, few visitors ever find out the history of the Baron Bliss Lighthouse. This lighthouse was built to commemorate the paraplegic avid sailor and fishermen Baron Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss. When Bliss visited Belize in 1926, he fell absolutely head over heels for the country. Unfortunately, two months after his arrival, without setting a single foot on its shores, Baron Bliss died, but bequeathed $2 million dollars to the country. Bliss was buried at Fort George Point at the entrance to the Belize River, where the lighthouse now sits. Bliss had sent word throughout the world to his friends about Belize and this new interest as well as his money saw infrastructure boom throughout the country as well as built the Bliss Centre for Performing Arts, the country's first theatre.
Although Belize has far grander and larger Mayan ruins, there are none more important to history than Cerros. Between 350 BC and 250 AD, Cerros served a crucial purpose to the Mayan empire as a trade centre. Cerros still remains the only Mayan coastal trade centre to be unearthed to this day. Strategically placed on the mouth of the New River, this site would have provided a link to the entire Yucatan Peninsula as well as it's many settlements. Although part of the site is underwater, five temples with interconnected plazas, two ball courts and an impressive irrigation system remain intact. Visitors are not only allowed to explore this ancient epicentre of trade, but its view over Chetumal Bay is unparalleled. Unfortunately, due to rising water levels, Cerros may not always be around for visitors to enjoy. There may come a day when this important part of Mayan history is completely submerged.
Perched 500 metres atop the Vaca Plateau, Caracol not only gives a great vantage point over Belize, but it remains the country's largest Mayan site. As Caracol was one of the largest Mayan cities, the sprawling complex that remains today should hardly surprise visitors. However, what remains is still only a small fraction of its original size. It was estimated that Caracol once housed 150,000 people at its peak around 650 AD, which may sound small, but it is still twice as many people as modern day Belize City has today. As visitors tour the ruins and they slowly make their way uphill, the foundations and dilapidated buildings grow larger and far grander. The pinnacle of Caracol is Canaa, or Sky Palace. At 43 metres, this stone pyramid still remains the tallest man made structure in Belize.
Lamanai in northern Belize was once a Mayan city of considerable size. It remained one of the few city's that were still occupied by the Maya when the Spanish arrived, which is why it still retains its original name, which in Mayan means "submerged crocodile". However, no one still knows how large it was or how much of it still remains. The ancient ruins of Lamanai are still not all uncovered yet. Although excavations officially started in 1974 with first detailing of the city beginning as far back as 1917, archeologists have focused their energy on excavation and reconstruction of the largest landmarks first. One of the biggest undertakings was restoring the 33 metre tall High Temple in what is presumably the centre of the city. Visitors can tour the majority of what has been excavated and restored; however, they are urged not to wander too far into the jungle for their own safety.
Located in downtown Belize City, each year thousands of visitors come from around the world to walk across the Swing Bridge. This landmark, built in 1922, remains the oldest swing bridge in Central America and the only remaining manually operated swing bridge anywhere. While walking across the bridge is a part of life for locals that need to travel between north and south Belize City, many visitors choose a more leisurely pace to enjoy the number of observation points along the way. The main event and a must for anyone who came to walk this relic of history is to wait until the evening opening that happens every day. It is during this time that the big boats can pass through the city and visitors come to watch this bridge rotate without the aid of machinery. It takes a minimum of four men to operate the bridge and visitors nearby will always know when it is happening due to the huge traffic jam it creates.
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