The Pompei of The Americas? – Joya de Ceren & Tazumal Archaeological Sites, El Salvador


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.”

Joya de Cerren ruins, El Salvador

Preserved details, like these homes, are just part of the reason they call the Joya de Ceren archaeological size in El Salvador “the Pompei of The Americas.”

Joya de Cerren ruins buried under volcanic ash, El Salvador

Preserved details, like these homes, are just part of the reason they call the Joya de Ceren archaeological size in El Salvador “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.

Joya de Cerren Mayan ruins, El Salvador - UNESCO World heritage Site

The Joya de Ceren archaeological site in El Salvador offers a unique chance to see how average citizens lived since their homes were preserved under volcanic ash.

 

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.

Joya de Cerren ruins, El Salvador - UNESCO World heritage Site

At Joya de Ceren archaeological site in El Salvador we got an interesting glimpse of how common people lived since their mud and twig dwelling were preserved under volcanic ash.

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 ruins, El Salvador

A temple at the Tazumal archaeological site in El Salvador.

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.

Tazumal ruins pyramid, El Salvador

Early excavators were a bit heavy-handed with the concrete in an attempt to preserve the underlying structure and simulate what the building would have looked like covered in stucco when the Mayans flourished at Tazumal.

Tazumal Mayan ruins, El Salvador

Tazumal archaeological site in El Salvador.

 

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.

Yucca y Chicharon, El Salvador

Delicious yucca and chicharon from a small restaurant near Tazumal archaeological site in El Salvador.

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.

Sheep grazing around San Andres ruins, El Salvador

One of only a handful of structures that have been excavated at San Andres archaeological site in El Salvador. Make sure the supposedly excellent on-site museum is open before you plan a visit.

Pyramid at San Andres ruins, El Salvador

A pyramid at San Andres archaeological site in El Salvador.

San Andres Mayan ruins, El Salvador

Only a handful of structures have been excavated at San Andres archaeological site in El Salvador.

 

Read more about travel in El Salvador

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6 comments on “The Pompei of The Americas? – Joya de Ceren & Tazumal Archaeological Sites, El Salvador

  1. Covering stuff in concrete is certainly one way to preserve it for the generations. I’m not sure it’s the most aesthetic option. And as for the flowery descriptions that accompany UNESCO status – it’s not just the UNESCO sights that are at it! There’s a town near me which bills itself as the Venice of France. It’s very nice and all, but a bit of water does not make Venice….
    Laurence recently posted..In photos: Purnululu National Park (the Bungle Bungles)My Profile

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