The Legend of Tulum’s Underwater Mayan City
Being one of the most popular archaeological sites in the country, it’s no surprise that we’ve all heard about Tulum at some point. The contrast between the gray of its pyramids and the blue of the ocean in front of this place is accentuated by the pristine sand in between.
Unlike Chichen Itza, which had already been abandoned for some time when the Spaniards arrived, Tulum was still inhabited when they arrived between 1518 and 1520. However, a few years later, its people abandoned the massive wall towards the end of the 16th century. With so many centuries of history, it’s difficult to determine the exact cause, although, similar to Paquime, it probably has something to do with the conquistadors. What we do know for certain is that there is a legend about the moment when its inhabitants left.
The Seaside Wall
Formerly known as Zama, which means “dawn,” this city boasted temples, a castle, and a massive wall. According to legend, from there, the king of this great city saw the sails of the Spanish ships in the distance.
Having a bad feeling, the king gathered his people to warn them. They could flee to the jungle or other Mayan sites if they wished. However, the people demonstrated their loyalty by unanimously deciding to stay.
Time passed, and the conquistadors arrived on nearby shores. News reached the king of Zamá as other villages fell, one by one. However, his people remained steadfast: they would stay with their king.
According to the vestiges found years later, the wall was one of the many sites dedicated to the goddess Ixchel, the moon. Therefore, when the king witnessed the loyalty of his people, he was moved and made a decision. He asked the warriors to notify his people that when the goddess Ixchel reached her highest point in the sky, they should all gather with him on the beach.
The warriors obeyed. Each inhabitant of Zama received instructions to meet the king under the full moon, carrying only their most essential belongings. After several days without seeing or hearing anything from the king, they began to wonder if he had abandoned them. Despite this, their loyalty remained unshakable, so when night fell, they made their way to the shore with their belongings.
The king was already waiting for them there. Under the watchful gaze of Ixchel, he told them that they would not have a chance to survive what was coming, as the conquistadors were getting closer to the wall. Therefore, after consulting and contemplating for a long time, the king decided that they would all flee together as compensation for their loyalty.
Many villagers wondered where they would go since they were surrounded by villages that had already fallen. However, their king appeared confident and serene, so after a moment, everyone agreed to follow him.
Smiling, the king turned his back to them. He began to walk toward the sea, but before reaching the point where the sand softened under the touch of the waves, he stopped. A few seconds passed, during which no one dared to move or utter a word. Then, the king struck the sand with his heel.
The ground began to move, revealing a hole that rapidly grew in size. Initially imperceptible, it reached the size of a crab in a matter of seconds and continued to expand. The inhabitants of Zama, impressed, looked at each other as the hole surpassed the size of a grown man and kept growing. When it was large enough to accommodate several of the king’s soldiers, the sand stopped moving.
Without saying a word, the king looked at his people and gestured for them to pass first. The tunnel, so close to the shore, could only lead to some point beneath the sea.
Slowly, men, women, children, elders, and warriors entered the tunnel. Each carried their belongings, and after the last inhabitant of Zamá had entered, the king followed, bringing up the rear. As soon as he entered the mouth of the tunnel, it began to shrink at the same rate it had opened until it disappeared.
The legend claims that their descendants still dwell somewhere beneath the sea, waiting for the right moment to return to the Mayab and restore its ancient splendor in memory of their ancestors.