The History of Corozal
The Mayan Civilization thrived in Belize between about 2000 BC and 1000 AD. In Corozal, the most significant reminder of their highly advanced civilization is the impressive archaeological site of Cerro Maya, located across the bay from the town of Corozal. At its height from 400 BC to 100 AD, Cerro Maya flourished as a trading center whose key goods were obsidian, jade, salt and chert tools.
Though partially underwater today, Cerro Maya remains stunning, with five temples — one that is 72 feet high — and related plazas, an extensive canal system and breathtaking, panoramic views.
Pirates & Other Resource Hunters
For the first half of the 1500s, the Spanish explored Belize in search of gold and silver, but found none. What they did find were two plants highly valued in dye-making: logwood and dyewood. The Spanish Governor of Yucatan nominally controlled timber rights through exclusive access grants, but this control was regularly challenged by the British and threatened by pirates operating in the area, most notably around Ambergris Caye.
Because these outlaws were so successful in keeping their settlement secret, the exact dates of their occupancy are unknown. However, it’s generally believed to have lasted from 1638 to 1662. Unable to expel the foreigners, the Spanish ultimately decided to let the British log in a specific area, reckoning that it was better to confine them to one area where their seditious religious and political beliefs would have minimal impact. Thus, in 1670, the foundation of the British Commonwealth was laid, and in 1763 the Treaty of Paris permitted British settlers to cut hardwood in Belize.
Corozal Town: Conflict, Destruction and Rebirth
The Town of Corozal was founded in 1848 by Mestizo refugees fleeing the Mayan uprising against the Spanish further north. These refugees, aligned with the Spanish, faced constant threat from Mayan attacks, and Corozal essentially became a garrison town. The brick corner supports of the formidable Fort Barlee can still be seen near the post office complex across from Corozal’s central square.
For the next seven decades, Corozal Town grew steadily. The only town in British Honduras that was built in a grid-like fashion, it was known for its beauty and prosperity. Hurricane Janet unfortunately leveled the town in 1955, and Corozal’s reconstruction remains one of the most impressive in Belize’s history. Today, Corozal is a well-planned frontier town whose people reflect a juxtaposition of proud Yucatecan heritage and modern Belizean culture.
Interested in Corozal’s History?
An impressive mural in Corozal’s town hall offers a vibrant depiction of the area’s rich history, and the Corozal Library next door houses a unique collection of books on Belize both past and present.