TULUM

México » States » Quintana Roo » Tulum

Archaeological Site of TULUM

The Archaeological Zone of Tulum is a must see and the best example of Mayan charm thanks to its ruins located on the edge of the Caribbean Sea; In addition to being the only archaeological zone that sits on the edge of a cliff, under which is the Playa del Paraíso, one of the best and most beautiful beaches in the Riviera Maya and most likely the most portrayed.

The old walled port of Tulum was inhabited until shortly before the arrival of the Spanish and was one of the most dynamic ports in the Mayan world approximately 1,500 years ago.

Tulum
Tulum

Tulum is the gateway to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve that was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, an ecosystem of the most exuberant on the planet that includes beaches, coral reefs, an abundant tropical jungle, dunes and cenotes.

If you are an adventure lover, in Aktun Chen Park you can explore and have fun exploring the caves and underground rivers, or enjoy the natural landscape from a zip line. Another option is the Gran Cenote de Tulum, a majestic place that can be explored by diving and recognizing its caves. It is a place where marine fauna abounds, from this place diving excursions to the famous Mesoamerican Barrier Reef are organized.

It was an important Mayan port between the 13th and 16th centuries; its main constructions are from the late post-classical period. Around it there are abundant mangroves and swamps.

The area is rich in fine hardwood trees such as mahogany, cedar, and gum. The main crops are sapote, papaya, guava and coconut palm. The climate is warm subhumid and with rains in the summer. The average temperature of 26 ° C, classic for medium and low jungles.

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Map of TULUM

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Tulum History

Tulum means “wall” in Mayan, and the reason for its name is given by the fortified enclosure that surrounds the perimeter of the city. Later it was renamed Zamá (“dawn”) since its orientation is towards the east where the sun rises, and it became a center of veneration for the deity known as “descending god”. An eminently Mayan city, it is thought that it may have had Mixtec influences as shown by some studied frescoes.

Inhabited at least since the 6th century AD. the period of greatest boom is circumscribed between the thirteenth century and the middle of the fifteenth century when the arrival of the Spanish began the decline of Tulum. Even after its abandonment, the towns near Tulum continued to make offerings that only the influx of tourism made disappear.

Tulum - Temple of the Frescoes
Tulum – Temple of the Frescoes

The importance of Tulum in pre-Hispanic cultures is due to its commercial enclave, which offered a stage and refuge in navigation along the coast, connecting Central America with Yucatán and the Gulf of Mexico.

The arrival of the Spanish to Tulum was preceded by the shipwreck of the ship Santa María de la Barca in 1511 due to a storm that capsized it on the coast. Of the survivors, only two managed to stay alive after contact with the natives, Jerónimo de Aguilar and Gonzalo de Guerrero, who knew how to adapt to coexistence with the Mayans after being captured, enslaved and taken to Tulum.

Seven years later, Juan de Grijalva, who left Cozumel to survey the different coastal settlements, spotted Tulum, being amazed at its size and the height of the buildings. The chroniclers compared it with Seville because of the high tower of the Mayan city, but by decision of the captain the ships did not anchor.

In that period Tulum lived a flourishing period, consolidating itself as a maritime enclave of coastal commerce. Hernán Cortés’ offer seduces Jerónimo de Aguilar, aware of the need to have translators available for negotiations during the conquest.

Gonzalo de Guerrero, married to the daughter of a Mayan president, not only refuses, but also continues his work of training the natives to resist the attacks of the Spanish, earning the nickname of El Renegado, while for the indigenous and especially to reinforce the American independence sentiment he will be called the Father of Mestizaje. Gonzalo de Guerrero will die years later in the Ulúa River (Honduras) fighting against the Spanish.

Tulum (or Zamá) was a defensive walled city with watchtowers, arranged on a coral limestone cliff, facing the Caribbean. Due to its strategic position and location on the coastal plain, and because it is at a height where the natural horizon can be seen in all directions, it was a field for astronomical observation, especially of Venus. Tulum is located on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.

House of Columns
House of Columns

The name of Tulum is relatively recent. Translated into Spanish as “wall” or “palisade”, in clear allusion to the wall that is preserved here, the site was named Tulum in the 19th century, when Stephens and Catherwood “rediscovered” it completely abandoned, just before the beginning of the Indigenous rebellion known as “Guerra de Castas” (1847).

What makes Tulum special is that it is the only Mayan city built on the side of the sea and on a small cliff. Therefore, when walking to the top of the archaeological zone of Tulum, you can enjoy a spectacular view of the Caribbean Sea.

It was a city consecrated to the cult of the so-called “descending god” by the priest-astronomers who saw Venus being born as an evening star and in turn being reborn as a “Morning Star”; as a dual god who ruled the lives of the inhabitants of the Caribbean Sea coast.

This city and commercial port was erected around 1200, although it reached its peak two centuries later. Under the rule of the Itzaes, it was a prestigious center for rich merchants and also an important port, since the lords of Chichen Itzá left from there on trips that reached Honduras to promote coastal trade that developed navigation, the opening of routes of communication, the creation and expansion of markets and the invention of currency or barter.

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Oriental Coast Style

Tulum is the best and best known example of the Oriental Coast Style, the name by which the architectural type of the Mayan buildings built on the north coast of Quintana Roo between 1200 and 1550 of our era is designated. Its structures, in particular the Castle and the Temple of the Frescoes, stand out for their good conservation and for the high quality of the wall paintings.

The east coast style corresponds to the Archaeological Sites that can be found along the Quintana Roo coast and that were in fact the last style before the arrival of the conquerors. These are constructions of much smaller dimensions in most cases reusing previous structures to superimpose the new ones. They are generally pyramidal or quadrangular bases with a temple of sloping walls at their top.

These temples have sloping walls with a single access and adorned with sloping moldings joined by a narrow molding and images of the descending god. They are also featured in some extraordinarily beautiful murals. In some cases its temples are spacious with columns inside and flat roofs supported in their time by wooden beams, as in the case of El Meco. In addition to this site, the most prominent were Tulum, San Gervasio, El Rey, Polé, Xel Há, Tankah and Muyil.

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Trade Routes

Route 1: Tenochtitlán – Xicalango. Salt, honey, jade, amber, obsidian, cocoa, basalt, turquoise.

Route 2: Isla Cerritos – Cozumel. Cotton, honey, wax, achiote, flint, agricultural products.

Route 3: ( Xcaret) or Xamanhá (Playa del Carmen) – Cozumel. Dried fish, meat, turtle eggs, manta ray spines, shells, snail, slaves.

Route 4: Polé (Xcaret) – Bacalar – Ichpaatún (Chetumal) – Nito (Guatemala ). Corn, salt, cotton, honey, wax, copal, achiote, agricultural products, slaves, flint.

Route 5: Nito (Guatemala) -Xicalango (Tabasco, along the Usumacinta, Grijalva and Candelaria rivers). Green stone, jade , obsidian, lead ceramic.

Route 6: Panama – Costa Rica – Nito – Polé (Xcaret) – Ecab (from Panama and Costa Rica). Copper, gold, tumbaga, fine ceramics, basalt metates, serpentine and condiments; from Belize: coffee, cocoa, flint; from Guatemala: green stone, jade, obsidian.

House of the Cenote
House of the Cenote
Cerritos Island

Isla Cerritos, is located off the northern coast of the state of Yucatan, in the Gulf of Mexico. In the archaeological zone it is noted that the place served as port infrastructure for the Mayans. It was a strategic site for maritime trade since it controlled the mouth of the Ría Lagartos estuary where one of the most important salt-producing areas of the Yucatan Peninsula is located. It is thought that the time of greatest Mayan splendor was that of the Terminal Classic and Early Postclassic, a period in which, it is estimated, it had significant trade with Guatemala, Belize, the interior of the Yucatán Peninsula, Costa Rica, and the southwestern United States.

Punta Xicalango

This point is considered as the western limit of the territory that historically corresponded to the Mayan civilization, that is, where the border with other Mesoamerican pre-Columbian peoples would have been. It was, according to some sources, an important exchange and settlement place for the Putún ethnic group, or the Chontales.

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The Mayan Ruins of Tulum

Tulum and Chichen Itzá were cities dedicated to the cult of the planet Venus, considered as a dual deity under the name of Kukulkán (associated with commerce and cocoa), where Venus was also the Morning Star or Lord of the Dawn, who descended in the west. to the world of the dead, to
darkness, for which he was represented as a Descending God; This explains why the main buildings of his cult face west.

Great Palace
Great Palace

The tour of Tulum leads through several spaces of different uses (religious, administrative, political or residential) with a suggestive route in front of the coast where the waves of turquoise water hit the cliff. Some of the buildings that we observe are the Great Palace, The House of Columns, the House of Halach Ulnic (both examples of residential architecture), the House of the Cenote or the Temple of the God of the Wind, in addition to the Temple of the Descending God and The Castle.

The buildings currently visible in Tulum belong in their entirety to the last period of pre-Hispanic occupation of the Yucatan Peninsula: the Middle-Late Postclassic (1200 –1550). The presence of some elements clearly associable to older periods, such as Stela 1, dated 564 AD, as well as Structure 59, which contains some stylistic elements from the Late Classic period, indicate that the settlement may have originated in a considerably older time, perhaps the Early Classic (400 or 500 AD).

There is consistent evidence to ensure that Tulum would have been one of the major Mayan cities of the 13th and 14th centuries. highlights its strategic location between the provinces (kuchkabaloob) of Cochuah and Cozumel, which, added to its location on the highest elevation in the region and its efficient defensive system, made it an unavoidable settlement for any commercial route and for exploitation of the rich maritime resources of the Quintana Roo coast.

The buildings are constructed of roughly worked blocks joined with mortars and wedges of various sizes. Everything was covered with a thick layer of stucco with which angular cuts or imperfections in the stone were hidden.

Outer Wall

Tulum’s wall delimits the main complex on its north, south and west sides, since the eastern sector looks directly at the Caribbean Sea. It has five entrances and two observation towers, which show the degree of control that at the time was exercised over those who tried to enter this area.

Central Area

In the central area of the site are the main buildings, delimited by a second inner wall; Most of these buildings had ceremonial functions. The Castle is the most outstanding for its size, location and the unique facade of its temple, in the upper part is the descending deity and two zoomorphic masks in the corners.

Temple of the Descending God - The Castle
Temple of the Descending God – The Castle
Temple of the Descending God

Located next to the Castle, the Temple of the Descending God, served as a religious site of veneration to a deity spread in the territory.

El Castillo (The Castle)

The Tulum Castle appears in any photo to be seen on the Mayan ruins of Mexico. The imposing building rises on the promontory of the cliff with two construction stages, consisting of several shrines on the sides of the access staircase. The lintel that is supported by two columns stands out where the figure of a serpent is carved.

El Castillo (name designated by the Spaniards due to its compact shape) could also serve as a guide building for coastal navigation, indicating the presence of the reef that runs parallel to the coast. Similar to western lighthouses, the building stood out for its height, an element that, like a compass, allowed to indicate maneuvers at sea.

Great Palace

Its breadth and housing distribution indicates that it housed a large number of nobles and leaders of Tulum. The decoration of the Palace shows carvings of gods such as Kukulcan, with an architectural style known as Puuc, and that we often find in Yucatán.

The original structure was designed in an “L” shape and later the west wing was added to meet the demands of population growth. The architectural style is consistent with the Puuc design, while its decoration includes carvings and images honoring deities such as Kukulkan.

The Main Road

A real street on which several residential buildings were located, one of the most important is the Temple of the Frescoes.

Temple of the Frescoes

a construction originally made up of a room surrounded by a portico on three sides. The mural paintings that are preserved on its walls portray, according to the researcher Arthur Miller, a series of supernatural beings residing in the underworld. The corners of the building are decorated by masks with serpentine elements that possibly symbolize their association with Kukulcán.

In the upper part of the main façade of the “Temple of the Frescoes” and in some other buildings there are niches that contain stucco motifs of the descending god. (formerly they were polychrome). In the upper niches an anthropomorphic deity was represented in a descending attitude.

Profusely decorated with blue and green frescoes and a dark background, the Temple of the Frescoes was a religious complex made up of two complexes, one built on the other from an earlier stage.

Tulum
The Harbor – Temple of the God of the Wind
The Harbor

The area of the Harbor is a small inlet from the sea between the rocks, enough for the Mayan ships dedicated to trade around the peninsula to dock. Today this area is closed to visitors, as it is an area dedicated to the conservation and nesting of sea turtles.

The Kukulcán Group

Located just north of El Castillo, comprises several minor structures, the most notable being the Temple of the God of the Wind, named for the roundness of its base, traditionally related to Kukulcán as the god of the winds, or to Ehecatl , the equivalent deity in central Mexico.

Watchtowers

In Tulum there are also three observatories (located in each corner) with a single room, where altars were built. Some frescoes found inside the buildings suggest some Mixtec influences in the community.

House of the Cenote

In the northeast access, the Casa del Cenote, documents the importance that the Mayans gave to the aquatic cult linked to the cenotes, and near there is the Temple of the God of the Wind, named for its circular base, related to Kukulcán, god of the winds.

The mural paintings of Tulum and Santa Rita Corozal

They are eminently religious in content, in which mythological scenes were combined with some astronomical representations– were made under the influence of the Mixteca-Puebla tradition, although it should be clarified that there is an adaptation of that style in which some properly Mayan features are also appreciated.

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