El Pilar is located 15 kilometers (10 miles) north of San Ignacio,
Belize, astride the Belize-Guatemala border. The ridge land escarpment
north of the Belize River valley, where El Pilar is prominently situated,
extends from Guatemala's Petén into Belize. Coming up from
the valley, traveling north on the Pilar Road, you climb over 340
meters (900 feet) before dropping down to El Pilar at 265 meters (c.
The area has long been called El Pilar. The origin
of this name is obscure, but the numerous natural water sources
found around the site suggest the old Spanish word for watering
basin, or pila, whose collective would be translated as El
Pilar. Two local streams have their origins at El Pilar: El Pilar
Creek to the east, and El Manantial (the spring) to the west. About
2.3 km (1.2 miles) east is Chorro, a small, delicate waterfall.
|The abundance of water around El Pilar is rare in the
Maya area; the venerable ancient city of Tikal had no natural water
sources at all. The population around Tikal relied entirely on constructed
reservoirs, or aguadas in Spanish.
El Pilar is situated at the edge of the interior ridge lands centered
at Tikal, 50 kilometers to the west. At the point where El Pilar is
perched, the ridges overlook the eastern flat lands that run into
the Caribbean Sea. This location provides a natural outlet for water
and may explain its abundance.
|El Pilar plazas and temples are extensive, ranking it
equal to other major centers of the Maya lowland region. It is the
largest center in the Belize River area, and more than three times
the size of other well-known centers such as Baking Pot or Xunantunich.
The mapped areas of the site are divided into three primary sectors:
Xaman (North) Pilar, Nohol (South) Pilar, and Pilar Poniente (West).
As the surveys continue, other complexes are discovered and their
connections explored. Other discoveries include Kum to the northwest
and Chorro to the east.
|Pilar Poniente and Nohol Pilar are connected by a causeway
system that joins the two sectors. We believe that there are more
causeway connections among the monuments and have developed a project
dedicated to explore this subject. Surveys and excavations have initially
concentrated in the eastern side of El Pilar within the Belizean park.
Western sectors of the reserve, Pilar Poniente and Kum, are located
in Guatemala. Their size and quality are magnificent and will be the
subject of greater attention in the future. Several other complexes
have been sketched and a full survey is currently underway.
|Drawing upon the expertise of diverse disciplines, the
research at El Pilar has integrated social, environmental, and even
political issues to approach the planning of the reserve. The El Pilar
approach to cultural conservation is guided by the ICOMOS Venice Charter
of 1964. This charter maintains that exposure and consolidation of
ancient monuments are not the sole realm of research, but part of
a greater context that includes the relationship to other cultural
resources, including flora, fauna, and the surrounding landscape.
As an ancient monument, El Pilar today cannot look as it did in the
past. Cultural resources, such as those at El Pilar are only vestiges
of their original character. We can interpret these remains as we
encounter them and, at El Pilar, we have the opportunity to create
an entirely new way of viewing ancient Maya monuments from beneath
the canopy of the Maya forest.