Rio Azul

Rio Azul was a special center, with a population made up mainly of noble military families with their aides, servants, and retainers. Its role was to secure part of the northern frontier and the main trade route. The expansion of the Tikal state into this zone. The new center was placed on a defensible ridge within a bend of the river, and a defense system. The Ruler oversaw and planned these developments.

The remainder of the population served by the city lived in the countryside. In a farming zone a short distance to the northeast we found many small house mounds, remains of the kind of dwellings built by lower social classes in large number at the city of Tikal. Large platforms dating from previous centuries continued in use for housing. Rio Azul seems to have served as the administrative center for a region of about 460 square miles. Covering about 750 acres, of the city.

Massive memorial temples, the tallest 155 feet high, were connected by paved causeways with the sumptuous residences of the elite. These palaces were made of stone, with apartments containing built-in beds and other amenities. In nearby kitchens food was prepared for the residents. Other palace complexes were used for administration. Evidently the plan and functions of Rio Azul continued essentially unchanged from its founding to its demise. Closed courtyards with smaller palaces were grouped around the larger compounds, reflecting a social structure in which aristocrats were ranked according to ancestry. Still smaller houses and courtyards-residences of retainers, servants, and artisans belonging to noble households were built close to the palaces.

The landscape had been extensively modified by human use through at least 2,500 years. In settled areas nearly every hillside was terraced; water holes were enlarged, new ones dug. The forest existed only in remnants They kept the land well cleared and free from weeds, and planted very good trees.There may have been belts of deliberately abandoned wasteland serving as buffer zones between the rival Maya states. There also were stands of forest left, presumably, for hunting and logging, but even these were largely composed of highly selected species of trees.

Rio Azul appears to have been abandoned about 535, probably during a period of civil wars that seem to have broken out when the older ruling families tried to regain power after Teotihuacan withdrew. Finally, descendants of the Teotihuacan-backed Maya nobles won out and reestablished themselves firmly at Tikal and elsewhere. Reoccupied and refurbished, Rio Azul resumed its function as a guardian of the Tikal frontier. The eighth-century rulers of Rio Azul seem to bear the same family name as before.

A large amount of foreign pottery appears during the Late Classic, and most of it comes from northern Yucatan, especially from the Puuc Hills, location of the great Maya cities of Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, and others. The saddest story of Rio Azul lies not in its demise, for the rise and fall of cultures, civilizations, and cities has paced the human epic from its very beginning.


Enduring Echoes of the Past


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