Guatemala – Flores Island City

Flores is a city located on an island in Guatemala. The city is the capital of Peten department. Flores is a very significant place in that it is directly tied to the Mayan history. It was on this island that the Mayan established Nojpeten, their final stronghold in the face of the imminent Spanish conquest of the rest of Mesoamerica. It fell to the Spanish conquerors in 1696, a long time after the rest of the Mayan cities had fallen to Spanish hands.

Flores Guatemala History

When the Itza left their strongholds in the Yucatan region, they fled to other parts of the region. Among these was the city of Nojpeten where the modern-day Flores stands. The city of Nojpeten was also called Tayasal, a term which meant “Place of the Itza”. The Itza came to this region in the 15th century and established the Itza Mayan kingdom centred at Nojpeten sometime between 1441 and 1446. This kingdom was to last until the Spanish conquest of the island in the 16th century.

Flores Guatemala Founding

The Nojpeten city was initially established by the Itza Mayans in a way that it was divided into four parts. Each of these four parts of the city were occupied by people of a different lineage. The city was founded in the years 1441 to 1446 after the Itza Mayans had to flee the Yucatan region. Their flight came about when the Xiu Maya at the Postclassic Mayan city of Mayapan forced the Itzas out of the city.

Nojpeten Architecture

Itza Maya constructed a large number of buildings, including temples, houses and palaces on the Nojpeten island. When the Spanish conquered the island in 1698, they reported that the island had a total of 21 temples. One of the largest of these was termed Castillo. Castillo had a 54-feet square base on each side and had nine large steps, constructed in the typical style of the Mayan temples. At the top of the pyramid was a shrine dedicated to the Itza gods.

Hernan Cortes and Nojpeten

When Hernan Cortes was on his way to Honduras, having already conquered vast regions of Mesoamerica, he made a stop at the Nojpeten island. Although he disembarked at the island, he did not try to conquer it given the strong fortifications of the island. Cortes’ inability to conquer the island left it safe from Spanish conquest for another century and a half, until the city finally fell to the Spanish conquerors in 1696.

Defence of Nojpeten

The city was established on an island and there was no way to access it but through a canoe which had to land at a specific place. This made Nojpeten fairly safe from any external assault. As an added measure, a long boundary wall was built all around the island, effectively shielding it from any land-side attack. The city was also naturally isolated from Spanish-conquered regions of Yucatan and Guatemala through a large forest. This effectively shielded the city from the notice of the Spanish for a long time.

Spanish contact and assaults

By the beginning of the 17th century, the Spaniards had firmly established their control on most areas of Mesoamerica and regions of South America as well. By this time, the Spanish were also aware of the island-city of Nojpeten, the last stand of the Itza Maya anywhere in the region. Initially, two Franciscan monks were sent to the city in order to convince the city’s rulers to convert to Christianity. According to the report of these monks, Mayans in Nojpeten firmly held to their old gods and accepted no influence of the religion of the conquerors. Consequently, the monks had to return with no success.

Later, the Spanish Governor Yucatan made many attempts and assaults at the island but didn’t succeed in taking the island. Due to the excellent defence of the island, the Governor gave up any plans to conquer it. Towards the end of the 17th century, the rulers of Nojpeten adopted a friendlier attitude towards the Spanish and monks were successful in converting and baptising many Itza Mayans on the island to Christianity.

Spanish attack and conquest

In the last decade of the 17th century, the power and influence of Nojpeten waned very significantly. A key reason was the disagreements and conflicts that grew up between the Itza Maya of Nojpeten and other Mayan groups, such as the Kowoj. The Kowoj had attacked the city before 1696 and in the ensuing fighting, a large part of the city was burned.

Although by this time, Nojpeten ruler had adopted a more amicable relation with Spanish conquerors, they didn’t give up their independence. The Nojpeten ruler also refused to embrace Christianity. This was finally used as a pretext to attack the island city. Martin de Ursua consolidated a large army and with the help of a ship, attacked the island.

The battle finally led to the defeat and downfall of Itza Mayans. The city of Nojpeten was thoroughly destroyed in the attack. Stones from the structures of the city’s buildings were taken away by the Spanish conquerors to be used as construction material.

Flores Guatemala Summary

Flores, a city island in Guatemala, is a city which figures most prominently in the last period of the Mayan civilisation. Flores was the site of the city of Nojpeten, also called Tayasal, which was the last stronghold of the Itza Mayans in the Guatemala region. Itza Mayans fled from the Yucatan region and established Nojpeten in the 15th century. Established on an island, the city was well guarded and had a walled boundary.

After all the other Mayan cities and strongholds had fallen to the Spanish conquerors in the 16th century, Nojpeten continued to exist independently. It was the last Mayan kingdom which continued well into the 17th century. The Spanish attempted to conquer the island but their attempts in the first half of the 17th century failed. Finally, the Spanish led a major assault on the island at the end of the 17th century and were successful in conquering the island. The fall of Nojpeten marked the final end of the Mayans in the region.