The Sartenejan region is rich with
Mayan sites as Sarteneja was an important Mayan port, central to trade between the Beleazean
and Guetmalan coastlines and the Yutacan Peninsula. There is evidence of Maya settlement throughout Sarteneja
Village but most has been reduced to small mounds or individual rocks.
Within miles of Sartenea there is
a network of roads, villages, and ceremonoal sites. Most of these sites are almost unexplored and
and visitors are welcome to engage in exploratory walks. see Sarteneja Attractions
The name Sartenaja is derived from the Yucatec Maya “Tzaten‐a‐Ha”, which is
thought to translate as “water in the rock”, referring
to the numerous shallow wells dug through the limestone. Sartenaja was first established
by the Maya and flourished between 600BC and 1200AD, covering the entire Classic period of Maya
history. Sartenaja is the
site of a large Maya settlement, and signs of the past Maya culture are readily visible. In the
late 1980’s an archaeological study carried out in Sarteneja demonstrated that the area was once a
prosperous, active, post‐classical seaport.
Sarteneja may have held as many as 300‐400 ancient structures, with the site
core being located 0.5 to 1.0km from the shoreline. The architecture shows a strong Yucatec Maya
influence, seen in rounded cornerstones, and carved limestone columns. The Maya are thought to have
been attracted to the area by the salt pans and fisheries. Objects from remote regions
including obsidian and flint, jade, and metates carved from volcanic rock, also uggest that
Sarteneja was a centre for long distance and regional trading, being an important stop over point
for merchants and travelers. Sarteneja was a cross road for people traveling between Mexico,
the Belezean coral reef, and the Corozal region.
Before hurricane Janet in 1955 the houses in Sarteneja, to house a population of about
300, were of Maya design (see houses) and of simple palm tree plaster walls and palm leaf roofs.
The entire village was destroyed through the winds and the tidal surge. Nearby and much larger
Corozal was also mostly destroyed. After Janet, Sarteneja village was largely rebuilt with
with rocks taken from Maya ruins within the village.
Sartenaja and the surrounding Maya
cities of Ceros, Corozal, Orange Walk, Chinox, and to the south a large and little unexplored city
at ???, were abandoned at the time of European exploration in
Lamanai, about 120
km from Sarteneja
was still occupied and is one of the longest lasting and most enduring Maya cities with
occupation from 400BC to 1650AD.
Sarteneja was one of the last surviving Maya cities. Lamania is located on the New River, Belize,
and had an very extensive adjacent wetland. This wetland was used for farming with irrigation and
could support a large population and would have provided some drought proofing. Lamania was also on
a major trade route, which would have helped stabilise its economy even in difficult
The Maya city of Sarteneja is located in a sheltered corner of
Corozal Bay. Other nearby Maya cities on the coast were Ceros (25 km - NW), Corozal (45km - NNW),
Buckelo Chica (70 km - E), and Chetamal (90 km - N). Inland there were Chinox (30 km - W), Orange
Walk (70 km - WSW), and Lamanai (120 km - WSW).
Although all the Maya
cities surrounding Sarteneja have a long history of exploration, the Maya history of
Sarteneja remains unexplored and mysterious. There are even Maya sites hidden closeby in the
jungle that are rarely visited even by the locals. For the adventurous, special hiking tours to
explore Maya heritage can be arranged. see list of Sartenejas
There are also many easily
accessible and fascinating Maya ruins within kilometers of the outskirts of Sarteneja including
pyramids and courtyards, mounds, and remains of Maya villages.
Pyramids and ball court - there is a pyramid and courtyard complex km south of Sartenaja that has
been cleared but not archeologically explored. A courtyard is surrounded by several
pyramids. In the adjacent area there is evidence of the surrounding village and several Maya
Right, Robert Browne part way up the largest
pyramid. A Mayan well showing the shallow water table. Images by Robert
Right, A view accross the ball court in the pyramid
complex. The scale is shown by the tow small figures middle of image. Left. a scar
in the largest pyramid as an example of the extensive looting that was rampant
until recently. Images by Robert Browne.
B'alam Ja Way (Jaguar Water
Spirit) - B'alam Ja Way is the home of
"Sustainability for Sarteneja". B'alam Ja Way is centered in a Maya village complex surrounding
a cenote. Features are a large Maya mound of pottery and sand dug from the cenote, the
ruins of the village surrounding the cenote, and Maya caves. The sustainability center itself
features an energy and materials efficient house, a range of local crops, and is a mecca for
local wildlife, particularly butterflies and humming and other birds.
Ceros - Ceros is the closest Maya
city site to Sarteneja that is open to the public.