April 6, 2024
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Tulum becomes the third most visited archaeological site in Mexico

Tulum ranked third nationally in the January-February 2023 period among the most visited archaeological sites in the country, behind only Chichén Itzá and Teotihuacan.

According to the statistical report elaborated by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), in the first two months of 2023 a total of 1.5 million tourists have visited the archaeological zones and museums of the whole country.

Of that total, 23.5 percent was captured by Chichen Itza with 207,787 visitors, followed by Teotihuacan with 16.7 percent and 148,38 visitors, while in third place comes Tulum with 14.9 percent and 131,900 tourists.

Next in order of importance by volume of visitors are Monte Albán, Uxmal, Palenque Tepozteco, El Tajín, Tula and Ek Balam.

The Mayan city of Tulum

Tulum becomes the third most visited archaeological site in Mexico

Located in the state of Quintana Roo in southeastern Mexico, near the Caribbean Sea and in the National Park of the same name, Tulum represents one of the last bastions of the Mayan culture.

Originally the city was called Zama, which alludes to the Mayan word for “morning” or “dawn” and it is logical since it is located on a cliff from which there are privileged views to see precisely the birth of a new day.

The name Tulum is therefore later and means “wall” “palisade” referring to the wall that surrounds it and that seems to be the name given to it when the city began to be abandoned and to be covered by the relentless jungle that surrounds it.

The first chronicles

Tulum becomes the third most visited archaeological site in Mexico

As early as 1518, the Spanish chronicler Juan Díaz referred to it as a “city as big as Seville”, with a tower that was undoubtedly El Castillo de Tulum. But it seems that the conquest accelerated a process of abandonment that had already begun before the arrival of the Spaniards.

It fell into oblivion (not so for the Maya, who continued to remember this ancient settlement to which they continued to bring offerings) until 1841, the year in which it was “rediscovered” and explored by the travelers Stephens and Frederick Catherwood.

It can be said that the architecture of this city is the greatest example of what is called the East Coast style. Its buildings were constructed in the Postclassic period between 1200 and 1550 AD. Structures such as El Castillo and the Temple of the Frescoes stand out for their good state of preservation and the high quality of their mural paintings.

However, the presence of older elements in the city, such as the so-called Stela 1, dated 564 AD, as well as the so-called Structure 59, which contains some stylistic elements of the Late Classic period, indicate that the settlement may have been older (perhaps from the Early Classic period of 400 or 500 AD). According to researcher Ernesto Vargas, the city would have functioned as a settlement independent of the dominion of other cities or provinces until the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century, when it was definitively abandoned.

Tulum becomes the third most visited archaeological site in Mexico

The area was populated before the Mayas, between 13,000 and 8,000 years ago. Remains have been found in caves and even under the sea, in an area of Quintana Roo, which has already suffered the ravages of climate change and was inhabited by wild animals that hunted humans such as the American lion, the saber-toothed tiger or the short-faced bear. These primitive inhabitants explored the caves and cenotes of the area using torches and bonfires to orient themselves. A dark, difficult world… far from what Tulum and its surroundings are today.

Strategic Location

Tulum becomes the third most visited archaeological site in Mexico

Tulum’s strategic location made it one of the main Mayan cities of the 13th and 14th centuries, especially after the fall of the city of Mayapán, its closest enemy.

In addition, its location in an elevated area and its efficient defensive system made it an essential stopover for the commercial routes established with other Mayan cities and those of central Mexico, which was reinforced by the great exploitation of its maritime resources. It thus became a nexus of union between the maritime and terrestrial trade routes of the Mayan world. In fact, objects from various regions of the Yucatan Peninsula and Central America have been found in the city.

The site

In Tulum, as in other coastal centers, there is an evident mixture of architectural elements of Mayan and Central Mexican tradition.

Tulum becomes the third most visited archaeological site in Mexico

In the archaeological site of the city we can find a ceremonial enclosure surrounded by a perimeter wall of five meters thick and five narrow doors that close the three flanks of land access. In the interior, behind the House of the Chultún is the House of the Columns or Great Palace, located in front of the House of the Halach Uinic or Great Lord, which preserves a great quantity of carvings and paintings.

To one side is the Temple of the Frescoes that was used as an observatory to follow the movement of the Sun. A large platform gives access to the best known structure of the city: The Castle, which in addition to its ceremonial functions functioned as a lighthouse guiding the ships to prevent them from crashing against the coral reef near the coast. This building has a wide exterior staircase that leads to the Temple of the Initial Series, which is crowned with another temple in which has been found in one of its niches a large sculpture that is very similar to the one found in the front of the Temple of the Descending God and that seems to be related to the setting sun.

On the other side of the Caribbean beach on top of a large cliff is the Temple of the Wind, and very close to it there is a path or sacbé that leads to the Cenote that provided drinking water to the city and that led to the House of the Cenote.

Tulum becomes the third most visited archaeological site in Mexico

In addition to all these buildings there is a wooden staircase built next to the cliff that allows interested travelers to access the beach to swim in the beautiful beach near the city, this being another important attraction to visit.

According to historical evidence, Tulum was one of the last Mayan cities to be built in the area and was an important seaport for trade. It was inhabited by the Maya in the 13th to 15th centuries, abandoned in the 16th century, many years after Mexico began to be occupied by the Spanish. Before being abandoned by the Maya, traders from other Central American and Mexican tribes traveled to the port city to do business.

Many people travel to Tulum to see the magnificent ruins of Tulum, making it one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico, behind Chichen Itza and Teotihuacan. There are a number of well-preserved structures in the ruined city, but the most notable and perhaps one of the most revealing remains is the wall that protected the land side of the city, the opposite side fortified by a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Although much smaller in scale, the architectural style is similar to that of the famous ruins of Chichen Itza.


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