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The History of Cozumel
Though the exact dates are unknown, it is believed that the Mayans began inhabiting the island of Cozumel roughly 2,000 years ago. Known then as “Ah-Cuzamil-Peten,” the island became a hub for a the Mayan religion, with a great deal of emphasis and power placed within the hands of the Mayan priests. Indeed, Cozumel island became of one the central locations for religious pilgrimages for those looking to pray to a goddess known as “ix Chel” – Diety of the moon, pregnancy, and childbirth.
As such a significant place of worship, Cozumel maintained a variety of temples and structures. Over the years, however, several of these ruins were demolished in favor of runways to use during world war II. Several ruins still remain, though including the ruins of San Gervasio – the largest ruins still remaining on Cozumel.
Years after these religious pilgrimages started to slow, a Spanish explorer known as Juan de Grijalva boarded Cozumel in 1518, claiming the country in the name of Spain and calling it “Isla de la Santa Cruz.” Soon after, churches were built to replace many of the Mayan temples. The following year, Spanish settler Hernán Cortés boarded Cozumel and with his armies, used Cozumel to help lead an attack against Mexico, ultimately leading to the end of the Aztec empire.
Cozumel itself experienced considerable destruction in 1570, when smallpox destroyed the local community, leaving only 30 people left alive and the island essentially deserted. The island remained almost entirely uninhabited, save for pirates that used the island to hide on occasion.
However, roughly 270 years later, the Caste War of Yucatan caused a variety of individuals to seek refuge back on Cozumel, and the island was once again inhabited, leading the way to the for the current inhabitants of Cozumel today. Without the Yucatan war, the landscape may have been considerably different, as it is said that Abraham Lincoln was originally looking to purchase the Cozumel island as a land for freed slaves, but the war made him change his mind.
The Modern Era
By the middle to late 20th century, the island of Cozumel was already becoming a popular tourist location, as Jacques Cousteau himself believed that Cozumel contained some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world, and openly encouraged others to try scuba diving within the diverse sea life. Though tourism within Cozumel has received its ups and downs for a variety of reasons (most notably the death of singer Kirsty MacColl from a controversial boating accident) the island itself remains one of the top choices for avid divers looking to experience some of the world’s natural beauty with their own eyes.