Centuries before the arrival of the Spanish, Yucatán was the seat of a great civilization (see Maya). Probably the first Europeans to arrive were the two survivors of a Spanish shipwreck (1511)—Gonzalo de Guerrero, who joined the Maya, and Gerónimo de Aguilar, who was rescued by Hernán Cortés in 1519 and became his interpreter. Later (1524–25) Cortés made an epic march across the base of the peninsula to Honduras. Francisco Fernández de córdoba had in 1517 already skirted the coast, and in the following year Juan de Grijalva had explored the same area. The battling with the Maya began in 1527 by Francisco de Montejo and continued until 1546, when his son, Francisco de Montejo the younger, crushed the revolt of a coalition of Mayan groups. Mayan resistance to Spanish (and later Mexican) rule perpetuated into the early 20th cent.

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