This chapter describes Xunantunich and El Pilar, two of the largest cities in the Belize Valley. Xunantunich is an important center built on a ridge partially encircled by the Mopan River and known best for the massive Castillo structure that dominates the site plan. Although Xunantunich’s occupation extends back as far as the Early Preclassic period, most of the architecture at the city developed over a short span of time in the Late Classic period and represents two planning agendas, separable thanks to careful excavations and a well-defined chronology for the site. Xunantunich experienced remarkable growth in the latter part of the Late Classic period, coinciding with the apparent takeover of the city by Naranjo. The new rulers found it possible to impose their own urban plan through an ambitious building program and transformed the overall plan into a cruciform. El Pilar, although a large site, has not been as thoroughly studied as Xunantunich. Split by an international border, El Pilar is known primarily from the portion of its epicenter in Belize, which includes two large architectural groups. Curiously, El Pilar has no known stone monuments and is the second largest site in the eastern lowlands without a stela.
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