The Caste War Museum shares the story of 400 years of Maya resistance to foreign attacks on their culture, lands, and beliefs. Also known as the Maya Social War, the Caste War continued a long history of Maya rebellion, in this instance against the oppressive economic, political, and social systems of the early 19th century.

For 2,500 years before the Spanish arrived, the Maya had a thriving, creative culture rooted in their ancient cities, the veneration of deities and ancestors, with a worldview that connected the natural, spiritual, and social realms.

By 1521, Spain had claimed the lands of the Yucatán peninsula and the right to extract its natural resources, using the native Maya as labor while converting them to the Catholic faith.

Resistance to the Spaniards began immediately. By 1546, Maya communities in the Yucatán were rebelling against the foreigners who built settlements atop their ancient temples, tried to eliminate traditional belief systems and languages, and seized lands and people for economic gain. For the next 300 years, the Maya, with periodic uprisings, sustained the hope of regaining their freedom and revitalizing their culture.

In 1847, the Caste War exploded when the Mexican government discovered that the Maya in what is today Quintana Roo were arming themselves in preparation for a new rebellion. The execution of a native leader ignited a war that continued through the rest of the 19th century as the Maya of Quintana Roo sought to establish and preserve their autonomy.

In 1850, the appearance of a “talking cross” in a Maya town not far from Tihosuco gave new inspiration and direction to the struggle. These divine communications encouraged the Maya to continue their efforts to restore their pre-Hispanic culture and destroy the system of forced labor that effectively enslaved them.

The rebel movement lasted until 1901, but episodes of retaliatory violence continued sporadically well into the 1930s. This spirit of defiant independence remains manifest in the Maya who live in the towns and villages of Quintana Roo today, and in the buildings that survived the Caste War found throughout the region—among them this museum and the partially destroyed Iglesia del Niño Dios that stands nearby in the plaza.