Mayan culture and History
Pre-Mayan cultures inhabited the Yucatán Peninsula as early as 3000 B.C. During the 10th century, a Mayan group known as the Itzáes migrated into the area and built the cities of Coba, Xcaret, Xel Ha and Tulum. They also founded Chichén-Itzá and Champotón nearby in what would become the state of Yucatán.
In 1502, members of Christopher Columbus’ final expedition became the first Spaniards to make contact with the inhabitants of Quintana Roo when they happened upon several native fishing boats off the coast. Nine years later, another Spanish ship came to the area and became stranded. Natives captured the survivors and killed all but two, Gonzalo Guerrero and Jerónimo de Aguilar, who were spared and assimilated into Mayan society.
Did You Know?
In 1902, the territory was named after a well-known lawyer, Andrés Quintana Roo, who was born in the city of Mérida in the neighboring state of Yucatán. He and his wife, Doña Leona Vicario, supported Mexico's fight for independence.
In the first quarter of the 16th century, several Spanish explorers ventured into the vicinity of Quintana Roo without establishing any settlements. One of these conquistadors was Hernán Cortés, who landed at Chetumal in 1519 and rescued Jerónimo de Aguilar eight years after his capture by the Mayans. In 1526, King Carlos V authorized Francisco de Montejo to conquer the Yucatán Peninsula. For several years, Montejo fought the Mayans on both the east and west coasts, but he failed to pacify the region and abandoned the attempt in 1535. Later, his son would meet with greater success, founding the cities of Mérida and Campeche in the 1540s.
Coastal settlements came under frequent attack by pirates during the 16th and 17th centuries; Salamanca de Balacar, for example, was sacked and then abandoned in 1652. Despite the difficulties, the Spanish increased their efforts to protect their holdings because the Yucatán Peninsula offered the closest mainland ports for the valuable Caribbean islands.
When Mexico began its fight for independence from Spain in 1810, it found an ardent supporter in the young lawyer Andrés Quintana Roo, a native of Mérida. Quintana Roo was instrumental in shaping Mexico’s formal declaration of independence, and he served in a wide variety of legislative and judicial posts as the new Mexican government took shape. In recognition of his contributions, President Porfirio Díaz named the new state after Quintana Roo in 1902.
Following Mexico’s independence from Spain, national boundaries in the Yucatán region were disputed by Guatemala (also recently independent), Belize (a colony of Great Britain) and Mexico. The issue was finally resolved by the Marshall Saint John Treaty, which established the border between Belize and Mexico on the Hondo River at the southern end of Quintana Roo.
Throughout the 19th century, the native population of the Yucatán Peninsula frequently rebelled against the Mexican government. They were finally subdued at the beginning of the 20th century, and Quintana Roo became a separate territory on November 24, 1902, by decree of President Porfirio Díaz.
When the Mexican revolution started in 1910, the population in Quintana Roo was deeply divided. Those who held most of the political and economic power supported Díaz, but the Mayan descendants took up arms against the Díaz government. Although the Mexican army overpowered most of the indigenous rebels, it lost the larger war waged by Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, Francisco I. Madero and others. When Díaz was overthrown, Madero appointed General Manuel Sanchez as the new Quintana Roo governor, removing Díaz’s protégé, General Ignacio Bravo.
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