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The history of Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres History

Historic Isla Mujeres

History of Isla Mujeres

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Mayan Ruin Isla MujeresIsla Mujeres has a long and colorful history. In Mayan times Isla Mujeres was called Ekab, it was one of the four provinces or Mayan territories that formed what is today the State of Quintana Roo. The island served as the sanctuary for the goddess Ixchel, the Mayan Goddess of fertility, reason, medicine, happiness and the moon. The Temple was located at the South point of the island and was also used as the lighthouse. The light from torches was shown through holes in the walls, which could be seen by the navigators at sea. The Mayans also came to the island to harvest salt from the salt lagoons.

Francisco Hernandez de CordovaIn March of the year 1517, Francisco Hernandez Cordova discovered the island. When the Spanish expedition landed, they found many female shaped idols representing the goddess Ixchel, thus Isla Mujeres got its name.

"During Lent of 1517 Francisco Hernandez de Cordova sailed from Cuba with three ships to procure slaves for the mines... (others say he sailed to discover new lands). He landed on the Isla de las Mujeres, to which he gave this name because the idols he found there, of the goddesses of the country, "Ixchel" and her daughters and daughter-in-law's "Ixchebeliax", "Ixhunie", "Ixhunieta", only vestured from the girdled down, and having the breast uncovered after the manner of the Indians. The building was of stone, such as to astonished them, and they found certain objects of gold which they took." Excerpt from "Yucatan, Before and After the Conquest" written in 1566 by Friar Diego de Landa.

Jean LafetteFor the next three centuries Isla Mujeres was uninhabited. The only visitors were fisherman and pirates who used Isla as a refuge and left their women on the island "for safekeeping" while they sailed the high seas. Famous pirates like Henry Morgan and Jean Lafitte walked the shores of Isla and as legend goes, buried their stolen treasure under the white sands.

After the Independence of Mexico, a small village began in what is now downtown Isla Mujeres. During the wars many Mayans took refuge on Cozumel, Holbox and Isla Mujeres. Mayan fisherman found the waters around the island to be a fisherman's paradise and the village slowly grew. In August of 1850, the governor of the State of Yucatan, Don Miguel Barbacano, named the village, Pueblo de Dolores.

The Legend of Mundaca the Pirate

Fermin MundacaFermin Anonio Mundaca y Marecheaga was born in October of the year 1825 in the village Bermeo of Santa Maria, Spain. After completing his studies he set out for the New World to make his fortune. He arrived on the shores of Isla in 1858 after acquiring his wealth selling captured Mayan slaves to Cuban plantations and some say pirating. Weather or not this is true, no one knows but Mundaca cultivated and enjoyed his reputation as a pirate.

Mundaca immediately set out building a large hacienda he named "Vista Alegre" (Happy View) which eventually covered over 40% of the island. There were areas for livestock, birds, vegetables gardens, fruit orchards and exotic plants that were brought from all over the world. A special garden called "The Rose of the Winds" was constructed which served as a sundial telling the time of the day by its shadows.

Mundaca's Grave Isla MujeresIn 1862 Martiniana (Prisca) Gomez Pantoja was born. She was one of five sisters and it is been said that she was a willowy woman with green eyes, white skin bronzed by the Caribbean sun and long, straight hair. Called "La Triguena" (the brunette), many men fell in love with her including Mundaca. The arches above the gates were dedicated to her, naming them "The Entrance of the Triguena" and "The Pass of the Triguena" in hopes his wealth and power would win the local beauty 37 years younger then himself. His dedication was in vain, she married a man closer to her own age and as legend tells it, Fermin Mundaca slowly went insane and died, alone in Merida. His empty tomb still awaits him in the Isla Mujeres cemetery. Carved by his own hands are the skull and cross bones, in memory of his pirating days and the words meant for his love, "As you are, I was. As I am, you will be".

The Story of The Immaculate Conception
By Enriqueta M. de Avila

More than 100 years ago in 1890 in the ancient colonial settlement of Ecab (Boca Iglesia) at the northern tip of Quintana Roo, several fishermen (one, my father-in-law, Christiano Avila Celis), discovered three "sister" statues of the Virgin. They were carved out of wood with their hands and face made out of porcelain. And so it was said, each one of the fishermen believing so strongly in the Catholic religion carried a Virgin to his own village. It was also said that the Spaniards had brought the "sisters" to Ecab many years before in about 1770. On Isla Mujeres the Virgin's first shrine was a small palm and wood Chapel and at a later date moving "Her" to the place that "She" presently occupies in the church was not easy. More than eight men could scarcely lift her…upon finally moving "Her", the small palm chapel burned down completely to the astonishment of all those present. It is said that the Virgin walks on the water around the island from dusk to dawn looking for her "sisters". Some years ago an Islanders saw the Virgin walking on the sea early in the morning. Later that morning her dress was found to be contained burrs and sand.

At Izamal, Yucatan and Kantunilkin, Quintana Roo where the other statues are, the feast is celebrated with mass from August 6th to the 15th and from the 30th of November to the 8th of December as on Isla Mujeres.

The "bajada" (descent) of the virgin is an unequaled event. More than 3000 faithful gathered together in the main square year after year to inaugurate a series of festivities that begin with the procession of the virgin and climax on December eighth with the grand fiesta in which all the inhabitants of the island and visitors participate.

Recent History

Long before Cancun was even a glint in developer's eyes, Isla Mujeres open it's arms to tourists from around the world. Some older residents of the island tell stories of tourists signaling from a make-shift dock near where Puerto Juarez stands today. Son's of local fisherman would take small launches over to the mainland and pick up visitors for their stay on the island. Eventually, Isla established a regular ferry service, making runs to Puerto Juarez once or twice a day and in the last few years, every half hour.

Isla Mujeres is the easternmost point of Mexico, the frontier of eastern Mexico, and the Mexican Navy base was established in 1949 . Fishing was still the main source of income; it wasn't until recent years that Tourism became a large part of the island. In 1967, the Mexican Government and its water department (C.A.P.A), with the help of many local divers, install an under-the-sea purified water piping system, the first in the world. The 6" pipes were replaced with 8" pipes in 1988 the same year Greeting the sun Isla MujeresHurricane Gilbert hit the island, which partially destroyed the Mayan temple on the south point. The last few years have seen tremendous improvements to the island including an extensive drainage and sewer system, electric and phone service to the various colonias, paved streets that allow rainwater to drain and a high school.

If you are lucky enough to be vacationing on Isla December 31st, it is a tradition for Isleños to greet the first rays of the sun at the dawn of each new year at the south point, the most eastern point of Mexico.

The people of Isla Mujeres are proud of their history and hold in their hearts the magic of their island and the promising future.


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