Puerto Rico // The north coast and karst country //

Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Caguana

One of the few remnants of Taíno civilization on the island, the Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Caguana (t787/894-7325) was established between 1200 and 1270, and used well into the sixteenth century. Hidden within a tropical forest and backed by a majestic karst ridge known as Montaña Cemí, a Taíno holy mountain, the site’s palpable sense of antiquity, unusual in Puerto Rico, is just as appealing as the ruins themselves. As with Tibes, you’ll find none of the awe-inspiring monuments of Mesoamerica here, just stone foundations and outlines of a series of ball-courts known as bateyes, as well as some valuable petroglyphs, but thought-provoking nonetheless. The true purpose of Caguana remains a mystery, though it’s evidence of a level of social complexity brushed over by early Spanish accounts, a sort of Caribbean Olympia, built purely for ceremonial games rather than as a settlement: people would gather here at special times, but very few lived here. The ball game (also known as batey), which was played with two teams of ten to thirty males and a rubber ball, is thought to have had great symbolic significance, the outcome influencing important tribal decisions – some experts believe the site was also used to make astronomical observations. If you’ve seen any of the ancient ball-courts in Central America, the similarities will be obvious and though most academics agree that the ball game probably spread across the Caribbean from Mesoamerica, it remains a contentious theory.

Ten courts have been excavated, including the central plaza, a circular plaza and eight smaller bateyes, revealing thick paving stones around the edges and some remnants of walled enclosures. Some of the standing stones are engraved with worn petroglyphs, geometric designs and arcane depictions of human faces and animals. The largest plaza, the Batey Principal, is also known as the Batey del Cacique Agüeybana in honour of the last great overlord of the Taíno, though it seems unlikely he spent time here. The small museum at the entrance exhibits Taíno artefacts garnered from all over the island – very little has been found at Caguana itself.

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