CAMPECHE HISTORY


Campeche is located on the southeast part of the Mexican Republic. It is bounded on the north and northeast by Yucatan, on the east by Quintana Roo and Belize, on the south by Guatemala, on the southwest by Tabasco. On the west and northwest side is the Gulf of Mexico.
Campeche has an area of 56,114 sq. km. (21,665 sq. mi.) including 288 islands and has two kinds of climate: the humid warm and the sub-humid warm. The sub-humid warm climate has periods of rain in the summer and beginning of fall. The dry season is characterized by the convergence of warm winds from the east and the southwest. The humid warm climate is prevalent in the southwest part of the state.
The City of Campeche, which is also a port in the Gulf of Mexico, is the capital of the state. It is located 196 km southeast of Merida by the federal highway 180, and 471 km northeast of Villahermosa by the federal highways 186, 261 and 180.
The village of Can-Pech was believed to have been founded around the third century A.D. . On October 4, 1540, the Spanish founded the village of San Francisco de Campeche., under the leadership of Francisco de Montejo "El Mozo". During the 16 - 18 centuries, San Francisco de Campeche was converted and became a popular port of commercial trade on the Peninsula of Yucatan.
Beginning in the 17 century, Campeche was involved in many pirate battles. Spain built a wall around the city to protect it from European takeover and marauding cutthroats. Later in 1777, King Charles III gave special recognition to the city in the form of an official seal which is still used today.
After the Independence of Mexico, Campeche became one of the five important seats of government which formed Yucatan. On August 7, 1857, civil war divided Campeche from Yucatan. A new region was created that was given the name Campeche, with the city of Campeche as the capital.
In Campeche, south of the Puuc hills, a distinctive style exists known as the Rio Bec or Chenes style of Maya architecture. The Bec River style features the use of twin towers with thatched temples on top, while the Chenes style is characterized by its profuse decoration of facades with fantastic stone masks.

The Mayan ruins of Becan


(which means trench) was discovered in 1934 by archaeologists Karl Ruppert and John Denison, who named it "Becan" after the conspicuous system of moats that surround significant portions of the site. The ancient Maya name is not known. From 1969 to 1971 archaeological excavations were made at Becan sponsored by Tulane University and the National Geographic Society.
When we first visited the ruins in 1992 we noticed white pyramids peering above the jungle. No one was there to even take our entry fee. Today, there is a small pueblo and the ruins have a proper entry area, bathrooms, and parking. Presently, visitors can walk to 20 major constructions associated with the plazas and patios, distributed over three hectares. The primary section of Becán is ringed by a moat and there are remains of a wall, in some places almost 11 feet tall. The digging of ditches and construction of protective walls is very rare in the Maya civilization. This man-made ditch is slightly over 2 kilometers long and was excavated in the late pre-Classic between 100 and 250 A.D. This trench is one of the oldest known defensive systems in Mexico.
Becán was the political, economical and religious capital of the province known today as Rio Bec to which the sites of Xpuhil, Chicanna, Puerto Roci, Okolhuitz, Channa and Ramonal belong. It is strategically located at the base of the Yucatan Pennisula on the route which unites the river and lagoon zone of southwestern Campeche, with the territories of Chetumal Bay. The sites in the Peten Region are found to the south of Becan. And to the north are the Chenes (wells) settlements in the northeastern Campeche, with whom Becan also had relations.
The earliest archaeological evidence from Becan dates from 550 BC. period, a time when the Olmec culture was declining at sites such as La Venta in Tabasco. The Apogee at Becan, reflected in the construction peak and the population density, took place bewteen 600 and 800 AD. Becan was abandoned around 1200 AD.
Becan is located just beyond the Quintana Roo-Campeche state line, 6 kilometers west of the town of Xphil. The turn to Becan is marked by a highway sign, and the archaeological zone is about 500 meters to the north of the highway. Because of Becan's significance to the Rio Bec area it is an important ruin to see when visiting the area. Becan is roughly 3.5 hours from Tulum, driving south on highway 307 then west on 186.

The walled city of Campeche, Mexico, is the legacy of 200 years of pirate attacks in the Mundo Maya


Text below by Beatriz Martí
At three o'clock in the morning on July 6, 1685, the San Francisco church bells began to ring. This was the signal for the entire town to assemble to hear important news. Men, women and children all ran to the main square and into the church to hear what the parish priest had to tell them.
But this time the priest wasn't there. When practically the whole population was inside the church, doors were slammed shut to stop anyone from getting out of the precincts. Then they realized what had happened: yet again Campeche was the victim of a pirate attack. From that moment, the town's new owners devoted themselves to sacking it: house by house, business by business and, above all, church by church. The pirates had already emptied San Francisco, but there were many other rich churches.
Leading the attack was the French pirate Laurent de Graff. An experienced sailor and thief, he frequently used this method: approaching silently at night, taking the principal church and then holding the entire town prisoner inside it. However, this wasn't de Graff's only method, as he sometimes attacked during the day. This savagery left the coastal cities very vulnerable, as if Lorencillo (as De Graff was called), or anyone else of the same mind, could come and do with them as they pleased.
Today piracy is a popular theme for children's books, but, during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, it was a highly profitable business thanks to Spanish domination of the Americas. But pirates weren't common thieves, nor vagabonds with eye patches and wooden legs: pirate ship captains were often fully paid-up members of the sailing club, seamen with skill and experience in ocean navigation and warlike tendencies. They were usually organized by countries that were enemies of Spain and the Papal Bull, a decree which had granted Spain almost the entire Americas, leaving out other great powers like England, France and Holland. England, in particular, gave tacit royal approval to pirate attacks, for a share of the booty.
In the case of Campeche, the loot usually consisted of gold, jewels, silver, fine woods, feathers, wax, cotton and dyewood or palo de tinte (a tree found in nearby jungles that once played an important role in the European textile industry on account of the orange-red dye it yielded), which left the New World aboard vast galleons bound for Spain. Out there, in the middle of the Atlantic, the pirates lurked.
Attacks also occurred at night, crews were taken by surprise as they slept, subjugated and usually abandoned while the pirates hauled up their anchors and made off with their loot and ship. After the successful raid and voyage back home, the pirates gave their king (or queen as sometimes was the case) a percentage, either as a return on their investment or as a form of taxation. The grateful ruler often bestowed titles on the pirates, who rubbed shoulders with royalty for the simple reason that they looted and sacked in the royal name.
In addition to Spanish galleons, pirates began to attack the ports of the Americas; on the Pacific coast, Acapulco and Huatulco; Veracruz and Tampico on the Gulf of Mexico and Santo Domingo, Havana and Cartagena in the Caribbean. Nearly all of these places were undefended, far from major cities, and were barely supported by the colonial authorities.
Campeche, a port in the Mexican state of the same name on the Gulf of Mexico, was a favorite with pirates. It had grown wealthy from the export of dyewood and other precious woods and the cultivation of tobacco on nearby plantations. The streets were lined with churches and fine houses built by prosperous merchants, making the city a worthwhile prize for any pirate. As an added bonus, the port's defenses were weak.
Pirate attacks on Campeche and similar cities began in the 1500s and continued into the 18th century. There were several bloody raids, during which pirates killed many men and imprisoned large numbers of women and children, but on other occasions the attacks were fended off. Campeche spent decades in terror as it became wealthier and even more irresistible to buccaneers, until Spain finally agreed to fortify the city.
In 1686, the first stone was laid in what would come to be a walled city and construction ended in 1704, effectively ending pirate attacks. A 2-meter-thick wall was built in the shape of an irregular polygon, two sides, 6 meters high, looked out to sea; and six more sides, 7.9 meters high, faced inland. Every corner of the polygon was protected by a bastion, each with 16 cannons.
From this time on, everything changed. The walls held back the attacks but piracy itself was on the wane. Pirates did, however, leave their mark on Campeche, in its walled architecture, bastions and forts; in local customs, for example that of the men going to market while their women and children stay at home; and in its oral history of unexaggerated bloody attacks.
Today's history of Campeche is very different, but vestiges of the walled city easily bring to mind people woken in the early hours of the morning when dozens of pirate ships neared the coast and prepared to attack. This was a time when piracy was the citizens of Campeche's worst nightmare and in no way a suitable theme for children's stories.