Spain Vs Maya: The History of the Foundation of Chetumal


Chetumal is a city on the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. It is the capital of Quintana Roo stateand the municipal seat of the Municipality of Othón P. Blanco.

History of Chetumal

In Pre-Columbian times, a town called Chactemal (also rendered as “Chetumal” in ancient/medieval European sources), perhaps today’s Santa Rita in Belize, was the capital of an ancient Maya state of the same name that controlled the northeast portion of Belize and the south quarter of modern Quintana Roo. This original Chetumal is now considered to have been on the opposite side of the Río Hondo, in present-day Belize, not at the site of present-day Chetumal.

During the Spanish invasion of Yucatán, the Maya state of Chetumal fought off numerous Spanish expeditions before finally being defeated in the late 16th century CE.

The 1840s CE revolt of the indigenous Maya tribes against Mexican rule, also known as the Caste War of Yucatán, pushed all the Hispanic people from this region; many shifted to Corozal Town, British Honduras.

The modern site of Chetumal was founded as a Mexican port town in 1898 CE, formerly under the name Payo Obispo. At the request of founder Othon P. Blanco, the early village was populated by immigrants from Belize (including Englishmen and Caste War refugees)

Administrators formally changed the name of the town to Chetumal in 1936 CE.

Two storms in the 1940s CE leveled the entire town; Chetumal was destroyed a third time in 1955 by Hurricane Janet. After this, the city was restored with a more solid construction, with concrete blocks replacing wood as the typical material.

The recorded population of Chetumal was tiny (about 5,000 in 1950 CE) until the creation of highways and bridges linking it to the rest of Mexico in the 1960s CE and 1970s CE; the town then boomed with large migration from other parts of Mexico.


The Porfirio Díaz government chose to end that situation, choosing to fight the rebel Maya and to accomplish this, it definitively installed the lines with British Honduras in the Rio Hondo, according to a treaty approved in 1893 CE, also separated the new one from the Yucatan Federal Territory of Quintana Roo state and sent the troops to fight the Maya.

The first step in battling them was to stop the trafficking of arms from Belize and to allege Mexican sovereignty at that end of the territory. Hence, Mexicans decided to construct a fort and customs section at the point where the ancient Hondo River led to the Bahía de Chetumal section and who was called Payo Obispo,’ an officer of the navy, White P. Mark, recommended that as it was an unattended place and without any confirmation of what the region would be like, it would be better to send to the site a [pontoon] than fastened at the point of the bay or the Hondo River, could work as a customs and barracks section.

At the same time, a changeless establishment was being accomplished, and the pontoon would allow for increased surveillance and rapid mobility. Authorities accepted Blanco’s advice. He was also appointed command of such pontoon and chief of the operation; the pontoon was constructed in New Orleans, and Blanco gave it the name Chetumal Ponton as a memorial to the Mayan name of the region. He left New Orleans in late 1897 CE and, after making stops in Progress (Yucatan)’ Progreso, Cozumel, and Yucatan arrived at the entrance of the Hondo River on 22 January 1898 CE.

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