Sustainable Landscape of the Maya Forest

Maya village illustration
mesoamerican research center

The El Pilar Archaeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna is a regional space of the Maya forest that surrounds the major center of El Pilar.  The 2000 ha of the binational park provide a living museum and a model of a sustainable landscape. 

While the political collapse of the ancient Maya led to the abandonment of city temples and palaces, the Maya forest gardening tradition continued and survives today because the everyday Maya passed on their understanding of the forest and plant use from generation to generation.. But with the increasing use of modern industrial farming, the rainforest is disappearing and forest gardening is threatened with extinction. Without time-honored Maya traditions, conservation practices, and knowledge of the landscape and ecology, the world will lose the real value of the Maya forest.

At its height, El Pilar housed over 20,000 people in a mosaic landscape of city houses and gardens, surrounded by forest and agricultural fields. It has more than twenty-five identified plazas in an area of approximately 100 acres (38 hectares), ranking it equal with major centers of the lowland Maya region. It is the largest center in the Belize River area, several times the size of nearby centers Baking Pot or Xunantunich. Protected today in Belize and Guatemala, El Pilar’s temples and plazas are connected by an ancient Maya causeway. The remaining housing sites and monuments surrounded by the still flourishing Maya forest give testament to the incredible resilience and sustainability of Maya traditional practices. Today, El Pilar stands as evidence to the achievements of the Maya people and symbolizes the immense potential for international cooperation and collaborative conservation.