Archaeologists only found traces of one pre-Kaqchikel occupational phase and this was an ancient level dating to the Late Preclassic. Occasional Early and Late Classic remains have been found but they are incidental and do not represent a Classic Period occupation of the site.
Late Postclassic history
The Kaqchikel people were closely related to the K'iche', their former allies. The K'iche'an peoples had received strong influences from central Mexico since the time of the great Early Classic metropolis of Teotihuacan. The history of Iximche is largely drawn from the Annals of the Kaqchikels, a document written in the Kaqchikel language but using Latin characters soon after the Spanish Conquest. This document details the origins, history and conquest of the Kaqchikels. The Kaqchikel served as close allies of the K'iche' for many years. The Kaqchikel rulers Hun-Toh and Wuqu-Batz' served the great K'iche' king K'iq'ab with such loyalty that he rewarded them with the royal titles Ahpo Sotz'il and Ahpo Xahil and the power to rule. The sons of K'iq'ab became jealous of the growing power of the Kaqchikel lords and led a revolt against their father that seriously damaged his authority. This revolt had serious consequences for the K'iche' as their conquered domains seized the opportunity to break free from their subjugation.
A minor incident in the K'iche' capital Q'umarkaj escalated to have important consequences. A K'iche' soldier tried to seize bread from a Kaqchikel woman who was selling it in the market. The woman refused the soldier and drove him off with a stick. The Kaqchikel demanded the execution of the K'iche' soldier while the K'iche' nobility demanded the punishment of the Kaqchikel bread seller. When the Kaqchikel lords refused to hand her over, the K'iche' lords sentenced Hun-Toh and Wuqu-Batz' to death against the wishes of the K'iche' king K'iq'ab. King K'iq'ab warned his Kaqchikel friends and advised them to flee Q'umarkaj. On the day 13 Iq' of the Kaqchikel calendar the four lords of the Kaqchikel led their people out of the K'iche' capital to found their own capital at Iximche. The exact year of this event is not known with certainty but is believed to have been between AD 1470 and 1485, with some scholars, such as Guillemín, preferring 1470. The Kaqchikel abandoned their previous capital Chiavar (speculated to be modern Chichicastenango) because it was too close to Q'umarkaj.
K'iq'ab prevented his nobles from making war on the Kaqchikel for the remainder of his life, giving his former allies the time to establish their own kingdom and prepare its defences. When Hun-Toh died he was succeeded by his son Lahuh-Ah. Lahuh-Ah died in 1488 and was replaced by Kablahuh-Tihax. Oxlahuh-Tz'i', the son of Wuqu-Batz', had a long and successful reign and lived through the reigns of two of his co-rulers.
The Kaqchikel kings Oxlahuh-Tz'i' and Kablahuh-Tihax gained a definitive victory over the K'iche' around 1491 when they captured the K'iche' kings Tepepul and Itzayul together with the idol of their most important deity Tohil. The captured K'iche' kings were sacrificed together with a number of nobles and high-ranking soldiers, including the son and grandson of the king. After this defeat of the K'iche', two Kaqchikel clans rebelled, the Akahal and the Tukuche. The kings Oxlahuh-Tz'i' and Kablahuh-Tihax crushed the rebellion on 20 May 1493.
Oxlahuh-Tz'i' died on 23 July 1508 and was succeeded by his son Hun-Iq'. Kablahuh-Tihax died on 4 February 1509 and was succeeded by his son Lahuh-Noh. The Kaqchikel continued their wars against the K'iche' kingdom over the following decade. The Aztec emperor Moctezuma II sent messengers to the Kaqchikel in 1510, warning of strangers in the Caribbean. In 1512 he sent another messenger (named as Witz'itz'il) warning of the arrival of the Spanish in Yucatán and Veracruz.
In 1513 the Kaqchikel suffered from a plague of locusts. The following year, in 1514, Iximche was severely damaged by a fire. A plague, described as terrible in the Annals of the Kaqchikel, struck the city in 1519 and lasted two years, resulting in a large number of deaths. This was likely to have been smallpox brought to the Americas with the Spanish. After the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan fell to the Spanish onslaught in 1521, the Kaqchikel sent messengers to Hernán Cortés offering an alliance with the Spanish.
On 11 August 1521, Belehe Qat and Cahi Imox were chosen as lords of the city after the deaths of Hun-Iq' and Lahuh-Noh, the previous kings. Cahi Imox was the Ahpo Sotz'il and Belehe Qat was the Ahpo Xahil. On the eve of the Spanish Conquest, the Kaqchikel kingdom based at Iximche was still expanding into areas formerly controlled by the K'iche' and it was rapidly becoming the most powerful new kingdom in the Guatemalan Highlands. It was second in importance only to the K'iche' capital at Q'umarkaj.
Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado was initially welcomed into Iximche with open arms.
When Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado arrived in what is now Guatemala in 1524, 3 years after the conquest of the Aztecs, he found the highland Maya kingdoms weakened by twenty years of warfare and swept by the first European plagues. In the period of February to March 1524 he fought and completely defeated the K'iche', razed Q'umarkaj and executed the K'iche' kings. The Spanish were invited into Iximche on 14 April 1524 and were well received by the lords Belehe Qat and Cahi Imox. The Kaqchikel kings provided native soldiers to assist the conquistadors against continuing K'iche' resistance and to help with the defeat of the neighbouring Tz'utuhil kingdom. The Spanish only stayed briefly in Iximche before continuing through Atitlán, Escuintla and Cuscatlán. The Spanish returned to the Kaqchikel capital on 23 July 1524 and on 27 July Pedro de Alvarado declared Iximche as the first capital of Guatemala, Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala ("St. James of the Knights of Guatemala").
Pedro de Alvarado rapidly began to demand gold in tribute from the Kaqchikels, souring the friendship between the two peoples. He demanded that the Kaqchikel kings deliver 1000 gold leaves each of 15 pesos. A Kaqchikel priest foretold that the Kaqchikel gods would destroy the Spanish and the Kaqchikel people abandoned their city and fled to the forests and hills on 28 August 1524 (7 Ahmak in the Kaqchikel calendar). Ten days later the Spanish declared war on the Kaqchikel. A couple of years later, on 9 February 1526, a group of sixteen Spanish deserters burnt the palace of the Ahpo Xahil, sacked the temples and kidnapped a priest, acts that the Kaqchikel blamed on Pedro de Alvarado. Conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo recounted how in 1526 he returned to Iximche and spent the night in the "old city of Guatemala" together with Luis Marín and other members of Hernán Cortés's expedition to Honduras. He reported that the houses of the city were still in excellent condition, his account was the last description of the city while it was still inhabitable.
The Spanish founded a new town at Tecpán Guatemala, with Tecpán being Nahuatl for "palace", so the name of the new town translated as "the palace among the trees". The inhabitants of Iximche were dispersed, with some being moved to Tecpán, others to Sololá and to other towns around Lake Atitlán.
The Spaniards abandoned Tecpán in 1527, due to the continuous Kaqchikel attacks, and moved to the Almolonga Valley to the east, refounding their capital on the site of today's San Miguel Escobar district of Ciudad Vieja, near Antigua Guatemala.
The Kaqchikel kept up resistance against the Spanish for a number of years but on 9 May 1530 the two kings of the most important clans returned from the wilds. A day later they were joined by many nobles and their families and many more people came with them to surrender at the new Spanish capital at Ciudad Vieja.
US President George W. Bush at Iximche in 2007
The ruins were described by Guatemalan historian Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzmán in 1695. Miguel Rivera Maestre published some plans and views of the ruins in 1834 in his Atlas del Estado de Guatemala .Recinos 1998, p.20. American diplomat and writer John Lloyd Stephens described the ruins, which he called Patinamit, after he visited Iximche with English artist Frederick Catherwood and in 1840.Guillemín 1965, p.15. Kelly 1996, p.195. Catherwood never published any drawings of the site and Stephens reported that the locals had plundered the stone at the site for many years in order to use it for building materials in Tecpán. French architect Cesar Daly mapped Iximche in 1857.
In Spanish Colonial times Iximche was the focus of a syncretic cult worshipping a relic from the ruins that had been transferred to the church in Tecpán. As late as the 19th century processions to the ruins from Tecpán took place every Good Friday. This cult had died out by the time of the Guatemalan Civil War in the late 20th century.
Alfred P. Maudslay visited Iximche in 1887 and referred to it both as Patinamit and Iximche.Kelly 1996, p.196. He carried out a site survey and published a plan of the ruins. Robert Wauchope carried out a ceramic study of Iximche in the 1940s on behalf of the Middle American Research Institute of Tulane University and published his work in 19481949. Historian Janos de Szecsy began excavations at the ruins in January 1956.Guillemín 1965, p.5. The remains of the city were excavated by Swiss-Guatemalan archaeologist George (Jorge) Guillemín from 1959-1972.Schele & Mathews 1999, p.299. Guillemín 1965, p.5. Guillemín published his work in 1959, 1967 and 1969. The excavation and restoration of the ruins was funded by the Guatemalan Committee for Reconstruction of National Monuments until July 1961, after 1963 the investigations were funded by the Swiss National Foundation for Scientific Research. Guillemín died before his investigations could be completed and his full report published. His field notes were finally published in 2003.
In 1960 the ruins of Iximche were declared a National Monument under governmental decree 1360 of the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala, published in May 1963. In 1980, during the Guatemalan Civil War, the ruins were chosen as a meeting place between Maya leaders and the guerillas, as a result of which the guerillas stated explicitly that they would defend indigenous rights in the so-called "Declaration of Iximche". In 1989 an important Maya ceremony was carried out at the site in order to reestablish the ruins as a sacred place for indigenous ceremonies.
United States President Bush visited the site on March 12, 2007. Local Maya priests said that they would be conducting purifying rites after his visit to cleanse the area of "bad spirits" brought by the president, who they said persecuted their "migrant brothers" in the United States. "We reject this portrayal of our people as a tourist attraction," a spokesman, Morales Toj, said.
From 2630 March 2007 Iximche was the site of the III Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities of Abya Yala. The meeting's closing "Declaration of Iximche" committed delegates to a struggle for social justice and against "neoliberalism and other forms of oppression."Secretaría Cumbre Continental de Pueblos y Organizaciones Indígenas 2007.