Quirigua was one of the smallest Mayan cities, but one of the most notable due to its splendid series of monuments.
Located in Izabal, Guatemala, 2 miles from the main highway to Puerto Barrios, lies Quiriguá a late Classic Maya city, best known for its stelas. Quiriguá was a great Maya city during the Classic period. The site's founder of the ruling dynasty was Tutum Yol K'inichm and it lasted from 550 to 850 A.D. During that time period Quiriguá controlled the Jade and Obsidian trade to the Caribbean coast and the region's highlands and lowlands. It was also during these years that Quiriguá had a fierce rivalry with its neighbor, Copán, which it conquered in 738 A.D. During this conquest the ruler of Quiriguá, Butz' Tiliw or Cauac Sky, captured and sacrifice in the Grand Plaza Copán's Waxaklahun Ubah K'awil or 18 Rabbit.
In AD 775, the Maya lord K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Yoat (Fire Burning Sky Lightning God) set up an immense stone monument in the center of his city. The unimaginative archaeologists who discovered the stone called it Stela C. This monument bears the longest single hieroglyphic description of the Maya Creation Myth, noting that it took place on the Maya calendar's day 126.96.36.199.0, 4 Ahaw, 8 Kumk’u, a date corresponding to August 13, 3114 BC on our calendar. This date appears over and over in other inscriptions throughout the Maya world.
The monuments at Quiriguá are unique in several other respects. Few other sites display full frontal views of the human figure, a later departure from the traditional profile depictions. Quiriguá also has numerous excellent examples of a fairly rare form of 'longhand' Mayan glyphs which use full animal and human figures, instead of smaller symbols or variations on abbreviated 'head-type' glyphs to represent the same meanings. There are only three other known examples of the full-figured glyphs in the entire Mayan world. The most striking of the sculptures at Quiriguá, however, are the zoomorphs, great unquarried sandstone boulders carved to represent animals. The boulders are covered with figures and glyphs in the characteristic Quiriguá mixture of low and high relief, and represent some of the most intricately carved designs in the Maya world. Nothing like them is found at any other site. Acoording to Maudsley, the most beautiful Mesoamerican sculpture, is Zoomorph P and its altar, Altar O, dedicated in 795 AD, sit before the stairway of a ruined palace facing the main plaza at Quiriguá. It stands seven feet high and over eleven feet wide, covered with figures, masks, and small glyphs, the altar depicts a god emerging from Xibalbá. The altar or Zoomorph O, which flanks Zoomorph P in front of the ruined palace, is exceptional for its flamboyantly executed dancing figure and a series of large full-figure glyphs, bearing enormous numbers in the dates (Up to 400 million Years).
It was an autonomic capital and inhabited since the 2nd century AD, and flourished until the 10th century, when it was abandoned for unknown reasons.
The stelae are arranged around the central plaza, accompanied by altars carved into zoomorphic shapes. The largest of these Stela is eight meters tall.