BULLETIN: Yucatan Buys Chichen Itza!

March 30th, 2010 by ejalbright

The state of Yucatan announced yesterday that it has purchased much of the archaeological zone of Chichen Itza from owner Hans Thies Barbachano for $220 million Mexican ($17.6 million US).

This groundbreaking transaction ends more than 500 years of private ownership of the land under the monuments of Chichen Itza.

For more than a decade the owners of the archaeological zone have been engaged in a battle of wills with the Mexican government, Yucatan government, and with other special interest groups over control of the ancient city. The previous owner, Fernando Barbachano Gomez Rul (grandfather of the current owner) had been forced to reassert his ownership claim in the Mexican courts in the early 2000s after the state of Yucatan began withholding monies from the sale of tickets into the site. In 2004 the federal courts confirmed that Chichen Itza was private property.

Since that time, tensions continued to escalate. When the state stopped paying Barbachano his portion of ticket revenues, Barbachano took over two large palapas inside the archaeological zone from which families of those who worked at Chichen Itza in security and maintenance had been selling trinkets and other tourist-related merchandise. In retaliation, these families organized a daily “invasion” of Chichen Itza, in which hundreds from the local villages would enter the archaeological zone and set up tables and blankets from which they sold trinkets and handicrafts. More than a year ago the vendors established an association that has regularly been calling for the government to take Chichen Itza.

Chichen Itza has been private property since colonial times. It was originally part of a land grant by the Spanish crown dating back to the 1580s. For centuries the property had been part of a cattle ranch. In 1894, an American, Edward Herbert Thompson, acquired the property. In 1926 the Mexican government seized it, charging Thompson had looted Chichen Itza of artifacts. In 1944, after Thompson’s death, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that Thompson had broken no laws, and the property reverted to his heirs. They, in turn, sold it Fernando Barbachano Peon, great-grandfather of the current owner. Chichen Itza has been in the family ever since.

While yesterday’s sale involved the archaeological zone that most tourists are familiar with, there are two other parcels still in private ownership. The Hacienda Chichen, owned by Carmen Barbachano y Gomez Rul, includes what is called Chichen Viejo (Old Chichen), a large group of structures, many of them restored, south of the main archaeological zone. The Mayaland Resort, owned by Fernando Barbachano Herrera, includes a swath of property to the east of the archaeological zone. None contain ruins that are open to the general public.

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