Ever notice how grand the descriptions get after a destination or attraction achieves UNESCO World Heritage status? In the case of the Joya de Ceren archaeological site that description is “The Pompei of The Americas.”
Like Pompei, the small city here was buried under 20 feet (6 meters) of ash in AD 529 and residents left behind a treasure trove of everyday items. However, the citizens here had enough time to escape and no human remains were found at Joya de Ceren so it lacks that creepy feeling of witnessing the final moments of life which you get when you visit Pompei.
Discovered by accident in 1979 and made a UNESCO site in 1993, many of the household and farming items unearthed here are now on display in the interesting on-site museum and they’re a welcome change from the usual pottery shards.
Of the nearly 100 archaeological sites we’ve visited on the Trans-Americas Journey, Joya de Ceren is the only one that offered a glimpse of how the normal people lived. At most archaeological sites only the royal dwellings and temples remain since they were made of stone. But because Joya de Ceren was preserved under ash, even the mud and twig dwellings of the citizenry remain.
Quit it with the concrete
Experts believe the Tazumal archaeological site, which is part of a large group of ancient cities most of which remain unexcavated, was a major trading center. It may have been inhabited for more than 3,000 years though not everyone flourished. The site’s names means “the pyramid where the victims were burned” in the Quiche Maya language.
Tazumal is a pleasant, compact site but it was hard for us to get past the concrete which early excavators spread over sections of the structures to protect them and mimic what the buildings might have looked like when they was plastered over and in good condition.They ended up making the remains look like a third grade art project. Despite rumors that the concrete was going to be removed in 2009 it was all still there when we visited.
There are lots of small restaurants across the street from the entrance to Tazumal which sell delicious yucca y chicharon (boiled yucca, pickled vegetable and crispy/meaty pork served on a banana leaf), so come hungry. It’s a great place to try this Salvadoran dish.
Know before you go
When we were in the area the nearby Casa Blanca archaeological site was closed for renovations and when we arrived at the San Andres archaeological site its museum, the main reason to visit, was closed for renovations as well though they were still charging the full admission price. Check on opening status before you travel there or pay to enter.