Cozumel awaits with an exciting and interesting history. It dates back to the time of the ancient Maya, whose culture on Cozumel came to an end with the arrival of the Spaniards. These Maya left many traces of their existence.
The growth and destruction of the Maya civilization is an unforgettable part of the Cozumel history. The first traces of the Maya probably date back to 100 BC. Evidence of the existence of the Maya on Cozumel has been found in more than 34 places. Few have been fully excavated and opened to the public. The largest of them is in the middle of the island called San Gervasio.
The Maya of Cozumel: Pre-Colombian time
Mayan ruins San Gervasio on Cozumel
Historians assume three migration waves to Cozumel. The Mayan people who arrived around 100 BC were Caribbean semi-nomads, hunters and fishermen. The second migration wave happened around 400 AD when Maya from Guatemala arrived. They were culturally more developed, settled and knew the art of architecture. The third and most important migration wave for Cozumel’s history reached Cozumel around 800 AD from Tabasco and Campeche.
They brought the important cult of the goddess Ix Chel, the goddess of the moon and fertility. She is the second most important goddess of the numerous Mayan deities and the wife of the sun god Itzamna. In the following episode, many Mayan women hoped for the blessing of Ix Chel. Therefore, they made a pilgrimage to Cozumel to ask for fertility. Typically, they set out for this pilgrimage before their wedding. This is why many weddings of pilgrims took place on Cozumel.
Attention: The goddess Ix Chel has not lost any of her influence!!!!!!! It is said that thanks to the story of Cozumel and especially thanks to Ix Chel, so many children are born on Cozumel.
Maya crossing to Cozumel in canoes
Mayan goddess Ix Chel on Cozumel
For the Maya, the journey to Cozumel was dangerous. Between the mainland and Cozumel there are very strong currents. The Maya used canoes to cross the strait. Today, this crossing is celebrated as a sacred element of the Mayan culture. Once a year, pilgrims in canoes cross the Yucatan Strait to worship the Cozumel history and deliver offerings to the goddess Ix Chel.
The cultural flowering of Cozumel is closely linked to that of Chichen Itza. Between 800 AD. – 1,200 AD, Cozumel became an important market and trading center. Since many pilgrims arrived here anyway, they took the opportunity to exchange goods. At this time, Chichen Itza was the capital of Cozumel. Archaeologists have found many indications of a close link between Chichen Itza and Cozumel, including ceramic and similar architectural elements. After the fall of Chichen Itza around 1200 AD, Cozumel remained an important center for the Maya. Their importance in the Cozumel history ended only with the arrival of the Spaniards.
Mayan ruins on Cozumel
Mayan ruins San Gervasio on Cozumel
The most famous ruins on Cozumel are located in the middle of the jungle, the place is called San Gervasio. These Mayan ruins of Cozumel are well worth a visit. Here you can see the park and get interesting insights into the history of Cozumel and the culture of the Maya. However, the interested visitor will not find any large pyramids or ceremonial centers here. Rather, homes and complexes that testify the history of Cozumel. The Maya on Cozumel were dedicated to fishing and naufregating, while mainland Maya were architectural experts.
Specially trained guides take you on a journey back to the ancient world of tha Maya in San Gervasio. Most of them are true Mayan descenders. They like to tell you some anecdotes about the island of Cozumel. And those who like walking, can go until the temple of the goddess Ix Chel, where once the Mayan women asked for fertility.
Cozumel history: The arrival of the Spaniards on Cozumel
Symbol of the arrival of the Spaniards
The first Spaniards reached the island of Cozumel in 1518. John de Grijalva came from Cuba to Cozumel with peaceful intentions. His ship docked on Cozumel on May 3, 1518, and three days later the first Holy Mass on Latin American soil took place on Cozumel. People of Cozumel are particularly proud of this, as more than 90% of the population is Catholic. In the year 2018, the 500th anniversary of the two cultures was celebrated. A new church was built to commemorate the first Holy Mass on Cozumel.
A year later, in 1519, the infamous Hernan Cortes came to Cozumel. He came on behalf of the Spanish crown to subjugate “the new Spain,” as Mexico was called. Cortes convinced the chief of the Maya to submit peacefully and accept the Christian god. Hernan Cortes destroyed many Mayan temples and religious sculptures during his stay on Cozumel.
When the Spaniards arrived on Cozumel, about 20,000 Maya lived on the island. Unfortunately, a member of the crew of Cortes had the smallpox, a disease that had not existed in America so far. Only a few hundred survived the epidemic. In the middle of the 16th century, the island of Cozumel was often attacked by pirates and it became increasingly dangerous to live on a Caribbean island. Therefore, the surviving inhabitants moved to the mainland.
History of Cozumel: The repopulation
El Cedral: First settlement on Cozumel
For the next two centuries, Cozumel history states that the island remained uninhabited, with the exception of pirates who used Cozumel as a base for their operations. Among the most famous, were Henry Morgan and Jean Laffite. The Spanish crown was especially afraid of the Welsh Sir Henry Morgan. Morgan found the island of Cozumel ideal, for its cenotes and the remains of the Mayan sites provided excellent hiding places. He planned some attacks on Central America and the Caribbean from here and used Cozumel as an ideal retreat.
In 1847, the Caste war started on the Yucatan peninsula. Creoles (Spaniards of the middle and upper classes) particularly, were pursued mercilessly.
On the mainland, a man named Casimiro Cardenas sought refuge in a church, knowing that the Maya were not far away. The church, chosen as a shelter, was of little help against the aggressive Maya. Many from the village died. Cardenas, badly wounded, was one of the survivors, believing that a carved crucifix had protected him. Therefore, he swore that he would organize a festival in honor of God once a year. Casimiro and 21 other families reached the island of Cozumel in 1848 as refugees and founded the village El Cedral. Casimiro kept his promise and held a celebration of the Holy Cross at the end of April. Today, the El Cedral feast is Cozumel’s main festivity and many locals celebrate this old tradition.
The first cruise lines on Cozumel landed in the 70s. At that time, much smaller and more irregular in their capacity, they brought about 100 guests to the island – once a month. In the 70s, about 15,000 people lived on Cozumel. Today, this number has risen to nearly 100,000.