Joya de Ceren Archaeological Park in El Salvador, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Joya de Ceren Archaeological Park in El Salvador
Archaeological Park Joya de Ceren.

The Joya de Ceren Archaeological Park in El Salvador is a pre-Columbian Maya farming community located in the Zapotitan Valley in the department of La Libertad, 38 kilometers from downtown San Salvador.

Joya de Ceren was declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage site on December 11th, 1993.

The Joya de Ceren village was founded in an area buried beneath layers of volcanic ash from the Ilopango volcano eruption.

The site was abandoned until the ash layer had been converted into fertile soil; then, the Joya de Ceren settlement began. However, not long afterward, it was destroyed by the eruption of the Loma Caldera.

The Joya de Ceren Archaeological site is also known as the Pompeii of the Americas. This archaeological site, similar to Pompeii in Italy, was buried under the ashes of a volcano eruption. (The Loma Caldera Volcano).

Surfing in El Salvador x
Surfing in El Salvador

The layers of ashes from the massive eruption forced the population to flee. But, it protected the structures from the passage of time.

Joya de Ceren El Salvador
Joya de Ceren Archaeological Park.

The archaeological site contains the remains of a pre-hispanic farming community; it shows elements of the daily life of a Mayan farmer’s village.

Its incredible conservation allows visitors to get a glimpse of the daily life of the indigenous settlements before the Spanish conquest.

The site was discovered in 1976 during the construction of grain-storage silos. A bulldozer doing work exposed part of the ancient structure.

Afterward, Dr. Payson Sheets from the University of Colorado investigated and determined that the structure exposed by the bulldozer was at least 1400 years old.

Improving the Joya de Ceren Archaeological Park

On December 23rd, 2021, the Salvadoran government and the Franco-Salvadoran Program reopened the Joya de Ceren Archaeological Park.

The site grounds were closed for most of 2021 due to renovations. A total of $1.3 million was invested in the recovery and improvement of the cultural space.

One of the most relevant improvements to the park is the renovation of the Archaeological Park museum, which includes new lighting, furniture, and a museum script in Spanish, French, and English.

El Salvador Archaeological Site
El Salvador Archaeological Site.

It also includes an information system in braille, which serves so that people with visual disabilities can find their way around the park.

Visit the Joya de Ceren Archaeological Park!

When in El Salvador, you should visit the Joya de Ceren Archaeological site; it is part of the many Mayan settlements in the western part of the country.

The Joya the Ceren Archaeological Park is the only UNESCO site in El Salvador. It contains the remains of a pre-hispanic farming village that was covered by a volcanic eruption in the seventh century AD.

Underneath the layers of volcanic ash, the best-preserved example of a pre-hispanic village in Mesoamerica can be found, with architectural remains, grouped into compounds that include civic, religious and household buildings.”

The well-preserved site offers visitors a glimpse into the lives of indigenous farming communities; the site is impressive due to its excellent conservation.

The best way to explore this site is to do it as a combo package that can take you to other Mayan sites in the area. You can also combine a trip to the site with a visit to the Coatepeque Lake Caldera or the city of Santa Ana.

The Structures and Artefacts

The archaeological site has 18 structures, 10 of which have been fully or partially excavated.

According to UNESCO, “The excavated structures include a large community (public) building on the side of a plaza, two houses of habitation that were part of domiciles, three storehouses (one was in the process of being remodeled), one kitchen, and a sweat bath.”

Furthermore, “On the northeast side of the plaza, there is a religious building devoted to communal festivities and one where a shaman practiced.”

According to historians, the rapid fall of volcanic ash from the Loma Caldera volcano created exceptional circumstances that preserved organic materials and different artifacts. Many of these artifacts are on display at the Joya de Ceren museum.

Joya de Ceren Park
El Salvador Archaeological Park.

The Joya de Ceren Archaeological Park

Professor Payson Sheets, the archaeologist who discovered the site, said this regarding Joya de Ceren. “It’s an extraordinary time capsule.”

Numerous Specialists agree that Joya de Ceren is a unique place and one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. It shows the remains of one of the best-preserved pre-Hispanic villages in Mesoamerica.

Visit the Joya the Ceren Archaeological site. It is located near other top tourist attractions such as the San Andres Mayan Ruins, the city of Santa Ana, and the Coatepeque Caldera.

“Joya de Ceren archaeological site also constitutes a cultural symbol in El Salvador, where the past is linked to the present and plays an important role in human development of the region.”