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Location DB > Mexico > Quintana Roo > Tulum > Tulum
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created by lopix on 7/27/2005 5:48 PM
last modified by lopix on 7/27/2005 6:26 PM
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Tulum, 130 km south of Cancún, considered by many as the most beautiful of the Mayan sites, is small but exquisitely poised on 50 foot cliffs above the Caribbean.

When the Spanish first set eyes on the place in 1518, they considered it as large and beautiful a city as Seville, Spain. They were, perhaps misled by their dreams of El Dorado, by the glory of its position, and by the brightly painted facades of the buildings. Architecturally, Tulum is no match for these great cities. Nevertheless, thanks to the setting, it sticks in the memory like no other.

You enter through a breach in the wall which protected the city on three sides. The fourth was defended by the sea. This wall, some 16 feet high with a walkway around the top, may have been defensive, but more likely its prime purpose was to distinguish the ceremonial and administrative zone from the residential enclaves, which were mostly constructed of perishable material. As you go through the walls, the chief structures lie directly ahead of you, with The Castillo (The Castle) rising on its rocky prominence above the sea.

At The Templo de los Frescos (Temple of the Frescoes), the partly restored murals that can be seen inside the temple depict Mayan Gods and symbols of nature's fertility; rain, corn and fish. They originally adorned an earlier structure and have been preserved by the construction of a gallery around them, and still later (during the fifteenth century) by the addition of a second temple. Characteristically, its walls slope outwards at the top. Carved on the corners of the gallery are masks of Chac, or perhaps of the creator, God Itzamna.

The Castillo, on the highest part of the site, commands imposing views in every direction. Aside from its role as a temple, it may well have served as a beacon or lighthouse. Even without a light it would have been and important landmark for mariners along an otherwise monotonously featureless coastline. You climb first to a small square, in the middle of which stood an altar, before climbibg the broad stairway to the top of the castle itself.

To the left of this plaza stands the Templo del Dios Descendente. The diving or descending god-depicted here above the narrow entrance of the temple appears all over Tulum as a small, upside-down figure. His exact significance is not known. He may represent the setting sun, rain, lightning, or he may be the Bee God, since honey was one of the Mayan's most important exports.

Opposite is the Templo de Las Series Iniciales (Temple of the Initial Series), so called because in it was found a stela bearing a date well before the foundation of the city, and presumably brought here from else where. Further interesting places to explore are strung out south along the coast. If you simply want to take time out for a swim, you can plunge into the Caribbean straight from the beach fronting the site.
 Basic Information
Type: Ruins
Status: Active
Accessibility: Easy
Recommendation: drop everything - must see
 Physical Information

Tulum, Quintana Roo
Owner: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia
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  •  Hazards
     Interesting Features
    Principal structures - When visitors arrive at Tulum's ancient pre-hispanic site they are able to see the buildings that in its time were the city's main center (ceremonial and political), monumentally encircled by the Mayan world's best known wall. Around this wall, in an area that at the present time can't be visited, there were a vast number of wooden and palm houses. Nowadays virtually no evidence of these houses exists.

    City square - The square at the center of the city was probably once used for rituals or ceremonies and is flanked by the so called Castillo (The Castle) to the West. The Castillo, sometimes referred to as the lighthouse, is the tallest building at Tulum and the most famous. It stands on the above mentioned bluff, commanding a view of the ocean and coast for miles in both directions. The structure underwent several stages of building and the lintels of its upper rooms are carved with the plumed serpent motif. The rooms themselves are vaulted in classic Mayan style.

    Temple of the Descending God - This is another interesting structure. On the façade is a figure sculpted head down, and the walls inside show traces of the original pigments applied by the Maya. The descending figure is thought to represent a deity and Tulum appears to have been the center of his cult.

    The Temple of the Initial Series façade bears several stucco figures and the earliest date found at Tulum came from a stele in the inner sanctum. Also important are the Temple of the Frescos which is filled with murals, now mostly erased by time and the elements. The temple shows traces of several building styles. The House of the Columns is more complex than most structures at the site and worth examining. It's a palace-like structure with four rooms whose principal entrance faces South. Six columns support the roof of the main room and there's also a roofed sanctuary.With the exception of its Eastern flank, which is open to the sea, Tulum is completely encircled by a low wall. Watchtowers rise from the 2 corners of its Western flank and within each tower is an altar. A tiny cove nestles at the foot of the cliffs, with its apron of snow white sand. This caleta was where the trading canoes would slip ashore.

    The Kukulcán Group - Located just to the North of El Castillo, the Kukulcán Group, is formed by several minor structures. Being the most outstanding the Templo del Dios del Viento (Temple of the God of the Wind) is named after its round base. Traditionally related to Kukulcán is the God of the Wind Ehécatl from Central Mexico.

    The beach - Finally, it is appropriate to underline the importance of the beach area, where it is certain that the Mayan ships, dedicated to trade around the peninsula, would have docked. At the present time it is the most visited area of the archaeological site
     Security Measures
  • fences
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  •  Historical Dates
    Built: 564
    Closed: 1521
     Required Equipment
  • sunscreen
  •  Recommended Equipment
    The earliest date lifted from the site is A.D. 564 (the inscription on a stele). This places Tulum within the Classic period, though we know that its heyday was much later (1200 - 1521 A.D.) during the Late Post-classic period. Tulum was a major link in the Maya's extensive trade network. Both maritime and land routes converged here. Artifacts found in or near the site testify to contacts that ranged from Central Mexico to Central America and every place in between: copper rattles and rings from the Mexican highlands; flint and ceramics from all over the Yucatán; jade and obsidian from Guatemala and more.

    The first Europeans to see Tulum were probably Juan de Grijalva and his men as they sailed reconnaissance along the Eastern coast of Yucatán; in 1518. The Spaniards later returned to conquer the Peninsula unwittingly bringing Old World diseases which decimated the native population. And so Tulum, like so many cities before it, was abandoned to the elements.
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    Will stay as is, preserving history.

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    City by the Sea
    Mon, Dec 1st, 2003
    posted by lopix
    10 pictures

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    This location's validation is current. It was last validated by SaraBellum on 7/9/2008 5:28 AM.

     Latest Changes
  • on Jul 9 08 at 5:28, SaraBellum validated this location
  • on Jul 27 05 at 18:31, lopix made this location available
  • on Jul 27 05 at 18:31, lopix updated a gallery picture
  • on Jul 27 05 at 18:31, lopix updated a gallery picture
  • on Jul 27 05 at 18:30, lopix updated a gallery picture
  • on Jul 27 05 at 18:30, lopix updated a gallery picture
  • on Jul 27 05 at 18:30, lopix updated a gallery picture
  • on Jul 27 05 at 18:30, lopix updated a gallery picture
  • on Jul 27 05 at 18:30, lopix updated a gallery picture
  • on Jul 27 05 at 18:29, lopix updated a gallery picture
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