​​​​​welcome to the mayan ruins website .

recent north wall excavations                                             fundar

Structure P-9 platform/altar                                                 fundar

acropolis aerial view                                                         fundar

temascal structure P-5                                                       fundar

temple structure P-1                                                          fundar

structure P-5                                                                    nestor if


structure Q-40 excavations                                                fundar

wheeled figurine                                        fundar

zacatonal carranza cihuatan                                              fundar

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guazapa silhoutte                                                               fundar

acropolis site map                                                          fundar

carranza jaguar warioe figure           fundar               

acropolis palace excavations                                                   fundar

west ceremonial center                                            paul amaroli

west ball court                                                                    fundar

las marias                                                                        fundar

guazap style ceramic                                 paul aramoli

str P-5 Temple of the idols                   fundar

structure P-28 wind temple                                         ela ginalska

censer                               fundar

carranze structure 2 xipe totec                                         fundar

las marias main pyramid                                                  fundar

structure P-23 jahuar excavation                                      fundar

antonio sol investigations 1929                    fundar

structure P-20                                                                      fundar

carranza                                       fundar

main pyramid Structure P-7                                             nestor if

temple structure (-2                                                              fundar

main pyramid structure P-7                                               nestor if

las Marias sacbe                                                        fundar

structure P-28 wind temple                                               fundar

las marias overview                                                    google earth

CIHUATAN-San Salvador Department,

El Salvador

Cihuatán, “Place Next to the Woman” in the Nahuatl language, is an archaeological zone located north of the capital, San Salvador. It is among El Salvador’s largest known sites to date, and was declared a National Monument in 1974.

The site is spread atop a low rise, the Loma de Cihuatán, that strategically dominates the valley formed between the Acelhuate and Lempa rivers, with the west bank of the Acelhuate River running on the edge of the site. To the southeast of Cihuatán rises the impressive Guazapa volcano.

Cihuatán is one of several sites where rare wheeled figurines have been discovered. These four-wheeled figurines were made in the shape of mammals, such as dogs and deer, as well as humans and deities. Some also incorporated a whistle/flute. It is evident, then, that the Maya were familiar with the concept of the wheel. Why it was never put into practice beyond these figurines for use as a potter’s wheel or on their impressive, smooth surface sacbeob/causeways is one of those enduring mysteries.

The government began the purchase of the site core in the 1950’s, and it is now the largest archaeological park in El Salvador covering 177.4 acres/71.8 hectares. The entire site is thought to cover at least 741 acres/300 hectares. Its direct influence extended to residential and satellite groups that surrounded the site, as well as to small groups identified on the east side of the Acelhuate River.

The site museum occupies the original house used by archaeologists in the 1970’s. It was extensively renovated, and opened to the public on November 17, 2007, along with the inauguration of the Cihuatán Archaeological Park.

A large spiked incense burner nearly 5 feet/1.5 meters tall was recovered during investigations at the site. It is now on display in the National Museum in Mexico City.

Cihuatán is reached from the capital along the Carretera Tronco del Norte Highway (CA-4) 23 miles/37 km north towards Guazapa and Aguilares. The site is located along the same highway 1.5 miles/2.4 km north of Aguilares. Good signage.

HOURS: 9A.M.- 4P.M. Monday-Saturday, closed on Sunday
ENTRANCE FEE: U.S. $5.00, Parking $1
GUIDES: may be available on site, check first at Aguilares
SERVICES: Bathrooms, Service kiosk, snack shack, site brochures in English & Spanish
ACCOMMODATIONS: Short drive from the capital
GPS: 13d 58’53” N, 89d 09’53” W
MISC: Security has greatly improved throughout the country, though still best to check ahead of your visit

Cihuatán is dated to a very short time frame between 900-1200 CE. This time frame which is shared with other sites within El Salvador has been termed as Early Post Classic. (In some other areas of the Maya world this time frame has also been described as Terminal Classic.) It was most likely founded to control trade along the Acelhuate River, and would eventually become a regional capital.

It should be noted that a Late Classic (600-900 CE) site, Zacatonal/San Francisco, is located less than 2 miles/3.2 km away. The possible relationship between the two sites has not been thoroughly investigated.

Cihuatán incorporates both Central Mexican and Maya characteristics. It is thought that the ruling elite may have arrived from an unidentified region after the “Maya Collapse”, possibly the Highlands of Guatemala, Central Mexico or the Gulf Coast. Together with its “sister” site of Las Marías, these are the largest archaeological zones in El Salvador, and share the same time frame, and ceramic and architectural style termed Guazapa Phase. The Guazapa Phase ceramics appear to have been a regional style exclusive to both central and western El Salvador. A brief description of both Las Marias and Zacatonal/San Francisco appears at the end of this report.

There has been little in the way of recovered glyphic inscriptions discovered at Cihuatán to help in identifying its rulers, or its social/political relationships with other sites. The information obtained so far has been deduced from the recovered material artifacts, and through the architectural style of its structures.

Unfortunately, much of the ceramic and lithic material collected and stored at Cihuatán was either lost or became comingled with other site material during the chaos of the civil war of the 1980’s.

Cihuatán experienced a violent ending sometime in the 11th/12th century.  The city experienced heavy destruction with most of its structures burned. Spear points and arrowheads are frequent finds in the burnt layers of the structures. Human remains were found within drains at the Acropolis which have been dated to the time of the site’s destruction. Radiocarbon dates suggest that this occurred around the year 1100 CE. The site was abandoned at this time, and never reoccupied.

The first report that appears to refer to Cihuatán is a municipal report from Guazapa in 1859 with information about the remains of “a large and populous city”. Simeon Habel, during his investigations between 1863-1869 for the Smithsonian Institution, was informed of a place called “Siwhuatan” while passing through Guazapa, though he did not visit it.

During investigations in 1925-26, archaeologist Samuel Lothrop produced the first site plan. In 1929 Antonio Sol along with Augusto Baratta conducted several months of excavations at the main pyramid and in the North Ball Court. Theirs were the first official excavations in the history of El Salvador.

Archaeologist Stanley Boggs began important research at Cihuatán in 1954, and continued with further investigations in 1965 and 1967. Between 1974 and 1979 notable investigations were carried out by Karen Olsen Bruhns, Gloria Hernández, William Fowler, Jane Kelley and Earl Lubensky.

Cihuatán was located within a conflict zone for much of the 1980’s, which hindered most investigations though Gregorio Bello Suazo, José Retana and José Salguero, from the Cultural Heritage Directorate, managed to complete the restoration of the North Ball Court.

Beginning in 1999, the Cihuatán Project has conducted investigations with the participation of the National Archeology Foundation of El Salvador (FUNDAR) and the State University of San Francisco, California, with the support of USAID.

There have been over 150 structures identified so far at Cihuatán, most of them mound covered residential platforms. The ancient site encompassed a large area, though the site core today is much smaller and easily visited. The Guazapa Volcano to the southeast dominates the geography. The axis of the site runs about 12 degrees east of North.

Much of the building material is composed of blocks of a soft stone of consolidated and molded white volcanic ash called “talpuja”. Another form of construction material is made from “talpatate”/volcanic tuff. Both these materials easily deteriorate, and therefor were originally covered in a thin coat of lime plaster. The lime plaster was obtained by burning huge quantities of clam shells (including a type known as "casco de burro"/ Anadara sp.) as opposed to limestone used at most other Maya sites.

There are two main groups; The Western Ceremonial Center, and the Eastern Ceremonial Center. The Western Ceremonial Center has received the most attention by archaeologists, and this is the area that is currently open to the public.

Most of the structures of the West Ceremonial Center surround a huge, raised plaza measuring around 998 feet/304 meters by 806 feet/245.7 meters. A wall surrounds the plaza and most of the West Ball Court Group, and could have been of a defensive nature or to delineate a civic/ritual space. Even in its ruined state the wall reaches a height of about 6.5 feet/2 meters in places. Several rain drains have been discovered along the baseline of the wall. The main structure, Structure P-7, is located on the east side of the plaza.

Structure P-7 is a large pyramidal platform with a base measurement of about 710.4 square feet/66 square meters, and rises to a height of around 42.6 feet/13 meters. A plaza facing central stairway leads up to a summit temple structure. Only the slight remains of the temple foundation atop a small platform base exist today. Smaller stairways have been documented on both the north and south sides of the pyramid. All three staircases are flanked by balustrades 7.2 feet/2.2 meters wide.

From the summit of Structure P7 a panoramic view of the valley is offered. To the north is El Pital, the highest mountain peak in El Salvador at over 8,858 feet/ 2700 meters. To the southeast is the Guazapa volcano whose silhouette is described as a reclining woman. Further to the south is the San Salvador volcano.

Just to the north of Structure P-7 is a range-type structure, Structure P-6, that has yet to be excavated. A similar mound, Structure P-8, is located on the south side of the pyramid.

The North Ball Court, Structures P-3 and P-4, is located on the north side of the plaza in line with both Structure P-6 and Structure P-7. Most of the structure extends beyond the perimeter wall. The floor plan follows the standard design, and features closed “end zones”. The sides of the structures that face away from the field of play exhibit a continuous series of steps. The ball court area outside the perimeter wall forms a small courtyard on its west side with two structures, Structures P-1 and P-2, set on the far side of the courtyard.

Structures P-1 and P-2 were both small temple shrines with west facing stair steps. The remains of columns in the entryways have been identified. The floor plan of Structure P-2 has the shape of a “T”.  It is thought that the two temples may have been shrines to the central Mexican deity Xipe Totec.

The south end of the ball court is attached to a platform, Structure P-5, measuring about 26 feet/8 meters x 36 feet/11 meters. It houses two structures accessed via a ball court facing stairway. The east structure once housed a now destroyed single chamber temple, and has been named the Temple of the Idols due to the recovery of the over 20 ceramic feline sculptures. On the west side of the platform are the foundational remains of a temazcal/sweat bath. A terrace extends out to the south with steps that lead back down into the plaza.

Structure P-28 is low, circular two-tiered structure located on the south side of the plaza close to what may have been one of the original entrances into the ceremonial center. It has a rough, uneven diameter of around 26 feet/8 meters with entryways on its east and west sides. A fan-like apron extends out from the northeast of the structure in the direction of the main pyramid, Structure P-7, approximately 295 feet/90 meters across the plaza. The apron may have been the base for a stairway to the structure. The structure appears to have never been completed, and there are the tell-tale remains of the destruction of the structure by fire along with obsidian projectile points found from either the defenders or attackers. Round structures such as this have been identified with the wind god Ehecatl.

Numerous altars/platforms of different sizes are found within the plaza. Structure P-9 has been excavated and restored. It was possibly a ritual/dance platform with steps on all four sides. The others are small mounds awaiting restoration.

The west side of the plaza houses an excavated, range type platform structure, Structure P-11. Behind this structure, and at a lower level, is the West Ball Court Group. This group, in addition to the ball court itself, includes Structures P-12, P-20 and P-23, along with several other smaller mounds.

The West Ball Court consists of two Structures, Structures P-13 and P-14. The ball court follows the same floor plan and orientation as the North Ball Court. This structure has been partially consolidated, though it was never completed in antiquity. It faced the same destructive forces that destroyed and terminated the rest of the site.

Structure P-20, a small, two-tiered platform, is located to the west of the West Ball Court. A west facing stairway consisting of several steps was uncovered during excavations.

Structure P12 is a small, rectangular platform that housed a possible temple shrine. It is located just to the north of the West Ball Court. A foundation of blocks of talpuja supported a possible wattle and daub structure, most likely roofed with other perishable materials. A two-step stairway is located on the west side of the structure.

The broken remains of spiked censers were recovered on the west sides of both Structures P-12 and P-20. These ceramic artifacts are usually associated with the ritual burning of incense. Many of the censers recovered at Cihuatán are over 3.28 feet/1 meter high.

Structure P-23 is a small, ruined structure, possibly a shrine, situated against the south wall. One nearly complete ceramic jaguar and the smashed remains of at least six other felines were recovered during investigations.

The land that includes the Eastern Ceremonial Center was purchased by the government in 1994. A small, ground level plaza separates it from the Western Ceremonial Center. On the east side of the plaza is a very large modified hill/platform that houses the Acropolis. This area has only recently begun to receive attention from archaeologists.

The Acropolis platform measures approximately 448.4 feet/136.6 meters x 496 feet/151 meters. Preliminary excavations have revealed numerous foundation walls of structures, court yards and passageways. A monumental 3-step stairway on its west side measures about 98 feet/30 meters across.

A palace structure measuring about 79 feet 24 meters x 112 feet/34 meters was identified in the center of the platform. This structure may have been a multi-story compound with a large interior courtyard. It had a flat masonry roof supported by walls and circular columns built with adobe brick. Decorative ceramic elements that adorned the edges of the roof termed “almena” have been recovered from the collapsed debris, and are typically associated with palace structures known as “tecpan”, an architectural style characteristic of central Mexico.

A small platform structure, Structure Q-14, was investigated by Boggs (his Structure O-4) on the south side of the Acropolis. A burial of a sacrificed female was found during excavations along with 70 miniature vessels. Heaped around this structure were large quantities of shattered ceramics. Included in this offering were the remains of several wheeled figurines, censers, and ceramic vessels representing the rain god, Tláloc.

Structure Q-40, a roughly rectangular temple platform, is located in front of the northwest corner of the Acropolis. It features a temple structure made from adobe brick and a roof of perishable material. Excavations of this structure recovered over 20 small, spiked effigy vessels. Several shattered incense burners were found strewn across the platform steps.

South of the Acropolis is a group of several mound-covered structures including two, Structures U-1 and U-2, that form a possible “E Group” assemblage. Eight other structures are associated with this group.

There are several residential and satellite groups that radiate out from the site core, some containing small pyramids and shrines. Across from Cihuatán on the east side of the Acelhaute River an archaeological survey has identified two small groups: El Tempate, where a landing strip was cleared, and slightly to the south, Entrecanales. Another residential group is Carranza located 2.33 miles/3.75 km south of the site core.

Carranza has unfortunately, like many of the other surrounding areas, been nearly obliterated by agricultural and/or urban development. Only two of its ten structures, Structure 1 and Structure 2, have escaped this fate. A very nice jaguar warrior was recovered during excavations. What is interesting here is that the ceramic figure is wearing an “Ik/divine breath/wind” pendant very similar to the one seen on Stela 15 at Nim Li Punit in Belize, and the famous jade “Wind Jewel” pectoral recovered there.

Structure 1 is composed of three chambers resting on a low platform about 32 feet/10 meters x 49 feet/15 meters, and has a set of steps on its south side. The walls have been obliterated due to the planting of sugar cane crops. A very important discovery of the shattered remains of a near life-size ceramic statue of the deity Xipe Totec was found within the center chamber. Several arrow and lance points were found mixed with the broken ceramic remains and burned earth associated with the structure. The statue was apparently smashed, and the structure burned at the same time as the destruction at Cihuatán.

Structure 2 revealed a second Xipe Totec statue located within a buried cache in front of it. The statue had been carefully disassembled and placed within an elaborate offering containing a mix of over 500 ceramics and obsidian blades. Xipe Totec is a central Mexican deity related to fertility and regeneration. The deity is usually shown wearing the flayed skin of a sacrificial victim, and has also been associated with the planet Venus and warfare. In between Carranza and Cihuatán is a Late Classic (600-900 CE) site named Zacatonal/San Francisco.

When further reports come to light regarding the Cihuatán Acropolis and surrounding groups it will be reported here

Zacatonal/San Francisco
This archaeological zone is located about 1.9 miles/3 km south of Cihuatán. The site includes twelve visible structures/mounds. Between 1954 and 1958, the archaeologist Wolfgang Haberland carried out excavations on the main pyramid of the site which reaches a height of about 39 feet/12 meters. A ball court has also been identified, and is orientated on a north/south axis.

The site has been dated to the Late Classic, and is similar to the time frame of San Andrés, Joya de Cerén and several other sites in the Central and western areas of the country. It may have been a regional center of the Acelhuate River valley. Zacatonal is located only 0.31 miles/500 meters north of the Carranza residential group. Though these sites existed during different time frames, it is likely that there was some sort of interaction during the transition.

Agriculture activities beginning in the 1960’s were extremely detrimental to the structures with many of the low platforms destroyed by mechanized equipment. The remains of a modern structure occupy the summit of the main pyramid.

Las Marias is an archaeological zone that was contemporary with Cihuatán dating from the Early Post Classic (900 to 1200 CE), and may in fact be a satellite or “sister” city of that site. It is located in La Libertad Department, just north of Quezaltepeque, and about 8 miles/13 km southwest of Cihuatán. The Rio Sucio is only 0.31miles/0.5 km away from the site core, which was most likely founded to control trade along the river.

The site is oriented about 10 degrees east of North. Both sites shared a cultural ceramic complex and architectural style called the Guazapa Phase, which seems to have been a major regional style encompassing central and western El Salvador. 

The site’s core area is similar to that seen at Cihuatán. The most important structures surround a huge plaza, here called the Grand Plaza.

The Grand Plaza has a measurement of about 303 feet/92 meters x 471 feet/145 meters. The west side of the plaza has three range-type structures along its length, with two of them sharing the same platform base. A single range-type structure has been identified on the south side. The north side appears to be open. Several small platforms are located within the plaza.

The eastern side of the Grand Plaza Plaza houses the Main Pyramid. The Main pyramid has a base measuring 95 feet/29 meters x 108 feet/33 meters, and a height of around 26 feet/8 meters. A plaza-facing stairway has been tentatively identified on its west side. The summit housed a ruined temple structure. On the east side of the pyramid is a small plaza, here called the East Plaza.

The East Plaza measures about 185 feet/51 meters by 99 feet/30.25 meters, and is ringed by four structures. The north side of the plaza houses the Ball Court.

The Ball Court has the same design and orientation as is found at Cihuatán. Interestingly, a mound structure forms a small courtyard from the northwest corner of the Ball Court similar to that seen at Cihuatán with Structures P-1 and P-2.

The south side features a large rectangular mound. The east side has at least two structures, and backs up against what is called here the East Precinct. 

The East Precinct is a large, possibly raised plaza ringed by several range-type structures, and may have functioned in a similar manner to that of the Acropolis at Cihuatán. The plaza measures approximately 236 feet/72 meters x 198 feet/60,5 meters. A very large mound is located just to the northeast of the plaza.

Residential groups have been identified to the north and south of the Grand Plaza, in addition to some fairly large pyramidal structures.

Las Marias is, so far, the only archaeological site in El Salvador in which a sacbe/causeway has been discovered. The investigated portion runs in from the west, most likely connecting the river to the Grand Plaza. The sacbe has a length of around 0.31 miles/500 meters, and a width of 26 feet/8 meters

Las Marias is thought to be among the largest archaeological zones in the country. The government is slowly acquiring properties containing the most important structures, though other areas are under dire threat from development. The site is not officially open to the public, although the government has it pegged as a future archaeological park.
 April 2024.

structure P-12                                                                   fundar

north ball court                                                            ela ginalska

north ball court staircase                                                  fundar

carranza structure 1                                                          fundar

las marias ball court                                                        fundar

north ball court                       samual alexander

Cihuatan site map                                                             fundar

west ball court                                                            ela ginalska

antonio sol investigations 1929          fundar

UQ-40 spikes ceramic                              fundar

structure P-9 after restoration                      el salvador sin limites

aerial view west precinct                                                      fundar

structure Q-14 tlaloc figure                fundar.

zacatonal overview                                                    google earth