Belize History

The history of Belize is certainly an interesting one, and it begins with the Mopan Maya settlers who came to modern-day Belize from both Mexico and Honduras. The first Mayan settlers in Belize arrived around 2000-1000 BC, but it wasn't until the Maya Classic era (200-900 AD), when most of the significant Mayan cities here flourished. In the north of Belize, the Lamanai ruins give testament to just how advanced the Maya were. Other Belize Maya sites, which also include the Belize caves, give further insight into how the ancient Maya once lived, and you'll certainly want to arrange a trip at least one of these sites during your Belize vacation. Lamanai is interesting among the Belize Maya ruins, as the city here actually reached its apogee much earlier than most. Lamanai was an important ceremonial center as early as 200 BC. El Caracol, which is the largest Mayan site in Belize, didn't experience it's zenith until the aforementioned Classic era.

For reasons entirely not understood, Belize history sees the overwhelming collapse of the ancient Mayan civilizations. Between 800 AD and 900 AD, the Maya began to abandon their great cities, and archaeological research shows that during this period, the Maya performed an increased amount of ritualistic ceremonies. These ceremonies may just have been intended to ward off whatever was causing their demise. The Maya began retreating back to the Belize countryside after abandoning their cities, and they would form a number of city states that often had issue with each other. However, the ancient Maya would again see their numbers decline after the first Spanish ships to Belize arrived in 1508. Diseases brought to the New World by Europeans, such as smallpox and yellow fever, did much to decimate the native Maya. The Spanish would conquer a good amount of modern-day Belize in the 1500"s, but by the 1600"s, rebellions and revolts by the Maya resulted in the Spanish all but ending their attempts to control the land.

Both Belizean culture and Belizean history changed when the British became the next to set their eyes on Belize. British pirates and buccaneers were the fist ones to land at Belize, with seaman and Baymen soon to be found among the newcomers. These British settlers started coming to Belize around 1638, and the Baymen, who were British pirates that worked in the early Belize logging industry, set up shop around present-day Belize City. St. George's Caye, which is found close to Belize City, is the exact spot where a number of these Baymen "resided". During the 1700's, the history of Belize would see the British and Spanish engaging in ongoing disputes over control of the land, with the 1763 Treaty of Paris granting the British the rights to continue logging. Disputes would continue, and finally in 1798, the British defeated the Spanish in the Battle of St. George's Caye. It was around this time that the first African slaves were brought to Belize. They worked in the logging industry, cutting mahogany, and soon enough, they would make up a significant part of Belize's population. These slaves certainly worked themselves into the fabric of Belizean culture over time, which can be noticed among the country's genetic makeup to this day.

In 1862, the British officially labeled modern-day Belize a New World colony. At this time in the history of Belize, the country would be referred to as British Honduras. In the early 1900's, logging in Belize began to take a back seat to the sugar cane, citrus fruit, and banana industries. Belize City was without question the most important social center in Belize after the Europeans arrived, and in 1892, Belizean history would see Belize City named the official capital of British Honduras. You can visit St. John's Cathedral in Belize City to get insight into the history of Belize, as it is the oldest Anglican cathedral in all of Central America. It was built in 1812 by slaves. A visit to both the Old Belize museum and the Museum of Belize in Belize City will also help give insight into the history of Belize. Unfortunately, other than the impressive Mayan ruins in Belize and a few other surviving structures such as St. John's Cathedral, there are few surviving edifices attached to Belize history. In 1931 and 1961, Belize City suffered the devastating effects of hurricanes that all but wiped out the city. Not long after Hurrican Hattie leveled Belize City in 1961, the capital of British Honduras was moved inland to Belmopan. Since the Mayan ruins of Belize, such as El Caracol, Altun Ha, and Cahal Pech, are found further inland, they have not been so affected by hurricanes.

One of the most important dates in Belizean history is September 21, 1981. Though British Honduras had become a self-governing colony in the 1960's, it wasn't until this all important date that the newly named Belize gained full independence. British Honduras was renamed "Belize" in 1973, and Belize would be the British Crown's last colonial hold on the American mainland. Belize would struggle a bit during the 1980's and 90's, often having issue with Guatemala, which initiates constant border disputes. In the late 1990"s, the Belizean economy began to center more and more around tourism, and today, it's certainly the country's most dominant industry. As is evidenced in Belize history, hurricanes remain a major threat to Belize's future stability, with hurricanes Keith and Iris causing plenty of damage as recent as 2000 and 2001. Hopefully, hurricanes will do little to put a damper on Belize's thriving tourism industry. This small, laid-back slice of paradise can certainly consider itself a prime world vacation destination, and for the benefit of travelers worldwide, it will hopefully remain as such.

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