When the Spanish colonizer arrived in the Yucatan Peninsula, he encountered a declining Mayan civilization for decades. This is a key factor in understanding the conquest of the Spaniards of the Peninsula.

When the top Spanish conquistador to Yucatan Peninsula, he meets a town and a Mayan culture alive, but not with the great Mayan civilization, this was in decline decades ago. Scholars give the final date of the Mayan civilization around the year 1521 AD, and Spanish begins the conquest in Mayan lands in 1527 AD

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Location of the lands of the Mayan civilization

El Spanish conquistador, upon his arrival at 1527, he ended up hitting a town that was far from living its era of splendor, subjecting it and drastically changing its realities. The conquest was political and religious, changing the panorama of the original peoples, and transforming the thought religious giving way to the curious syncretism that we live in today.

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Mayan altar inside a house, Chiapas

Time of splendor and crisis of the Mayan civilization:

La Mayan civilization it lived its heyday of 200 aC to 900 dC, the time of Classic Maya. As of 700 dC, the one known as Great Maya Collapse, that were about 150 years of prolonged crisis caused by different factors such as internal wars among the ruling elites, years of struggles with other city-states overexploitation of cultivated land and other natural resources, climatic factors as droughts and hurricanes These seem to be the main causes that caused the collapse of several consecrated cities that succumbed dominoes throughout the Mayan territory.

The probable continuos civil agitamientos of the population, great famines and diseases that cause migration, with the consequent abandonment of cities in decline, the interruption of trade and connections between cities, scientific studies progress. Expert historians point out that the Mayan civilization lived in a constant ferris wheel of crises and collapses that were transforming, growing and deteriorating their civilization throughout their more than 3000 years of history, from 2000 BC to 1521 AD

The arrival of the conqueror surely caused the toughest ax on the Mayan people

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Recreation of Palenque in the Classic Maya (200 aC-900 dC)
Frederick Caterwood Art Print Palenque S.XIX Font
Frederick Caterwood Palenque S.XIX Art Print. Source
Palenque archaeological site, Chiapas
Palenque, one of the greatest of the Classic Maya Period, currently

El first contact of español with the Peninsula it is in 1517 dC, but the conquest of Yucatan did not begin until ten years later, in 1527. The Spanish conquest of the Mexica Tenochtitlan 6 had happened years ago, in the hands of Hernán Cortés.

Crisis and Mayan migrations:

Approximately from 700 dC, it seems clear the abandonment from many cities consecrated as Palenque, Snail, Yaxchilan, Tikal and an endless number, where famines, diseases and wars accumulated corpses, disease centers, polluted water, destruction, exhausted agricultural land ...

As it happens throughout the History of Humanity, in times of wars and crises great migrations. In this case they went from south to north, towards the Yucatan Peninsula. During this period of 650 years of progressive decline before the arrival of the conqueror, the Maya continued to live grouping into cities, building and recovering ancient spaces, practicing their ceremonies, battling with neighbors .... Isolated cities maintained that splendor and emerged in this period, but it was not globalized.

Sites of the Late Classic Period 450 - 650 dC Source FAMSI
Some sites of the Late Classic Period that collapse 450 - 650 dC Source FAMSI

Postclassic Maya, last stage of the Mayan civilization:

In the Yucatan Peninsula important settlements grew in the last years of Mayan civilization, In the Postclassic Maya, the 900 dC to 1521 dC. There were great cities like Chichén Itzá, Mayapan o Dzibanché that emerged in the Maya Postclassic, but the great previous civilization never resurfaced. There were no longer great lineages and powers that competed in territory and splendor, in wisdom, in science and astronomy ... the great base of civilization staggered, the Mayan people were more vulnerable than ever.

Decades before the arrival of the conqueror the last great alliance between Mayan cities of the Peninsula ended up dismembering, what became known as the Liga de Mayapán. This caused new migrations, this time towards the south, leaving a Yucatan Peninsula more uninhabited at the arrival of the conqueror. The Mayans who migrated to the south found it easier to fight Spanish by taking refuge in the mountains and high forest of Petén.

Sites of the Late Postclassic Period 1200 - 1521 dC Conquest of Yucatan begins at 1527. Source FAMSI

The Spanish conquest and the Mayans:

The Mayans, at arrival of the conqueror, they remembered the great cities of their grandparents, that they already hardly lived. They continued to perform ceremonies in the ruins of their ancient cities and cenotes, but they did not live in an elite that governed the people in a structured way. Dispersion and decline had been tangent for years.

La Mayan civilization, without a foreign rival to end her forcefully, she was condemned to decline by her own chain of events. Surely, as a consequence of the doubts that awake the fact of weighing various theories as causes of the Mayan collapse, the strange extraterrestrial speculations that made the Mayans disappear appear. The case of the Mayans is curious, but not so ... let's leave the nonsense of the aliens and other memeces that have confused so many people.

La Mayan civilization it collapsed and was consumed in its own crisis, but the Maya, diminished in population and resources, continued occupying the territory. Miracle, the Mayans today still exist in a large part of the territory they occupied, with a culture deeply rooted in their initial beliefs, despite the influences and subjection to which they have been exposed.


Upon the arrival of Spanish, Mayan town It was divided into families of illustrious surnames of what were once great lineages. There were the powerful cocomes, tutul xiúes faced with these, the chels in trade restrictions with the Cocoms, the canules, allies of the comomes, the cupules, those of greater number at the arrival of the Spanish conqueror, but not the most warriors.

In this difficult land, most neighbors and families were fighting with the one next door, and containing anger against the families they dominated. Some Mayan families like tutul xiúes made pacts with the Spaniards to the detriment of the neighbor. In many wars the foreigner seeks the internal squabbles to take advantage.

Mayan chiefdoms
Mayan lineages in the XVI century according to Ralph Roys. Source
«Exploitation of the indigenous by the Spanish conquistadors» Diego Rivera. Source

Here there was not a great city or king to defeat, it did not pass like the conquest of Hernán Cortés in the north of Mexico, in Mexicas lands, where a great reign Moctezuma. Here in the south there was territory to advance among Mayans who lived grouped and who tried to avoid the incursions of the Spaniards in a ferocious way, but ended up being defeated.

In these times the Maya they were not directed by great powers that would have been stronger and resistant to attack. The Spaniards were few in number in the conquest of Yucatan, but they were much more advanced than the Maya in techniques and instruments of war.

In spite of facing a town in low hours, the conqueror did not have it easy with the Maya. They were 170 years battling in Mayan territory, with the last town to fall Tayasal, in the Guatemalan Petén. The conquest of Yucatan was from 1527 to 1546, 19 years of different raids to the absolute domain.

These historical facts for years, even today, are sold as a discovery, so bad is narrated and history is transmitted: this was not a discovery, this was a conquest. Does anyone doubt it?

Good way,

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Sandra Salvadó Training photographer, traveler by vocation and certified tourism guide by the Government of Mexico. We promote natural wonders and contemporary Mayan culture. Great fan of pre-Hispanic history. Author of the blog and co-founder of The Shortest Path Travel, agency that guides you through alternative paths in Mayan lands. Social and sustainable tourism in the Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas.
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