A History of Corozal Belize
A Brief History of Corozal Belize
For contemporary visitors coming to Corozal with more interest in water sports than this region’s exciting past, it can come as a surprise when, either by accident or intention, Belize’s history becomes a topic of conversation that reaches back around 5,000 years.
Once the home of nomadic Paleo/Archaic Maya who had grown weary of trekking from place to place in search of better topography and resources, Corozal was ultimately settled by pre-Classic Mayas who transformed this society dramatically.
Spectacular technological advances were achieved as this once nomadic populace settled their new home. Temple building, stele design and a sophisticated relationship with the cosmos provided all manner of civilization to the people, as did an expansive agricultural movement that resulted in surpluses rarely enjoyed by their ancestors.
Advances and sophistication mark the Post-Classic period
The Post-Classic period (900 to 1511 AD) saw an elevation of all things Mayan: religious practices, city-building and architectural innovation that prevailed until Spaniards arrived on the shores of Chetumal/Corozal. It took no time for these explorers to plunder and assume dominion over this lush green land located between the rivers Noh Ucum and Dzuluinicob, and along the coast of the pristine bay.
Further inland, the Spanish conquistadors found fertile soil, favorable weather and intensive agricultural practices that had allowed indigenous people to grow enough food to support a flourishing trading relationship in honey, salt and cacao beans, the source of chocolate. But Spanish greed and harsh rule lead to unrest, which is how and why Corozal became an epicenter of resistance to these conquerors.
Spaniards gain a foothold that extends to England
To add insult to injury, Spaniards brought with them disease and illnesses that had caused epidemics back home. Within a century, 90-percent of native populations throughout the region had been killed off by measles, smallpox and influenza. A Spanish Governor took control to oversee a search for gold and silver that never materialized, but logwood and dyewood plants proved to be just as valuable and access rights were stringently monitored by the governor.
During the 1500’s, pirates operated with abandon throughout the Caribbean and Belize was not spared from their assaults by sea. According to historians, pirates plundered the area most heavily between 1638 and 1662. Enter a new conquering nation at this point: Spaniards were unable to repel a British fleet. To keep the peace, a portion of the Yucatan peninsula was ceded to the Commonwealth, affording legitimacy to England via the 1763 Treaty of Paris that granted British settlers exclusive rights to harvest hardwood.
Dominating the entire Yucatan peninsula, Spaniards aligned themselves with Mestizos, triggering the Caste War of Yucatan (1847 to 1901). Mestizos were concentrated about 30 miles north of Corozal Town where a massacre lead to an unprecedented exodus of an estimated 10,000 displaced refugees. In fact, what’s now the northernmost town in Belize was officially founded by refugees surviving the Maya Indian uprising of 1848.
Ultimately, Mestizos took up residence Corozal where the unrest between them and indigenous Mayas became so contentious, by 1870, it had become a garrison town and resulted in the construction of Fort Barlee in 1870. Visitors can still see remnants of this fortress when they visit today.
Now a model of diversity, Corozal finds its place under the Belize sun
If Corozal were to be given a singular name that encompasses its current population, “melting pot” would be a good choice. An eclectic mix of Spaniards, Mayas and Mestizos, infused with a fascinating mix of Catholicism and ancient Maya religious practices, seem to have finally settled into a community—until the British came along to inflict yet another nation’s powerful dominance over the people and institutions of Belize.
By the time Corozal Town had been firmly established on an ancient past that included prosperity, rebellion, domination and extinction, the town was yet to suffer a final indignity: On September 27, 1955, Hurricane Janet barreled through Grenada before hitting Corozal Town and turning it into flattened landscape that resembled the aftermath of a war zone. Only 10 houses were left standing.
Building tomorrow from the remnants of yesterday
Having come through so many catastrophes over the centuries, the people of Corozal had no appetite for self-pity and began their rebuilding efforts just as soon as the rubble had been cleared. Today, Corozal remains an epicenter of cultural history where Santa Rita, a pyramid site located atop the vestiges of a Maya city that had thrived for 2000 years, still reminds citizens and visitors of the region’s rich past.