Tulum Mayan Ruins one of the oldest archaeological sites of the post Classic period in in the north coast of Quintana Roo.
Sources from the XVI century designate the site as ‘Zama’ which possibly refers to the Mayan word that correspondents to mañana in Spanish or tomorrow in English. This is plausible because it is found in the highest zone of the east coast where the sunrise is a marvellous spectacle. The name Tulum seems to be relatively recent. Translated as wall or palisade, alluding to the wall that is preserved there, this name seems to have been used to designate the city when it was already in ruins. The site was named Tulum in the XIX century when Stephens and Catherwood rediscovered it completely abandoned just before the start of the indigenous rebellion know as the Casts War (1847).
Tulum mayan ruins is one of the oldest registered American sites in the western world. In 1518 the Spanish chronicler Juan Díaz narrated about visiting a city “as big as Seville”, with a tower that without doubt was the Tower of Tulum, a place occupied in that time by the inhabitants of the independent Maya leadership.
Tulum mayan ruins is the best and most well known example of the East Coast style, the name with which describes the architectonic type of the Mayan constructed buildings in the north coast of Quintana Roo between 1200 and 1550a.d. Their structures, in particular The Castle and The Temple of the Frescos highlight their good conservation and the high quality of the painted murals that are still conserved in interior of both.
Being the most widely studied, as much in an archaeological aspect as ethno historical, the view at Tulum is fundamental to understand the life and customs of the Mayas that lived during the Post Classic period in Quintana Roo.
The buildings currently visible in Tulum Mayan Ruins belong to the last period of prehispanic occupation of the Yucatan peninsula: the middle to last Post Classic (1200-1550). The presence of some elements clearly associated to the oldest periods, like the Column 1 dated to 564 and the structure 59 that contains some stylistic elements of the late Classic period, indicate that the settlement could have originated in a time period considerably older, maybe the early Classic (400 or 500a.d).
Archaeological studies published in the last few years indicate that there is consistent evidence that Tulum would have been one of the main Mayan cities of the XIII and XIV centuries. The investigator Ernesto Vargas highlights its strategic location between the provinces of Cochuah and Cozumel, which together with its placement on the highest elevation of the region and its efficient defense system, converted it into an unavoidable settlement for any trade route and for the exploitation of the rich maritime resources of the Quintana Roo coast. Tulum would have functioned politically like an independent settlement from the dominion of other provinces until practically the arrival of the Spanish in the XVI century when it was definitely abandoned.
Tulum is also the most known and published site in Quintana Roo and can’t be missed in any visitor’s itinerary. Although it is mostly known for its beautiful beaches, the urban design, wall and painted murals are must see attractions of the archaeological zone.
Finding yourself in the old pre Hispanic settlement the visitor can see the buildings that in its time were the main nucleus (politically and ceremoniously) of the city. Surrounding this, in an area that can’t be visited for safety reasons, were an enormous amount of houses constructed of wood and palms which today conserve some evidence.
The wall of Tulum outlines the main assembly by its north, south and west side since the east sector looks directly at the Caribbean sea. It has 5 access ways and 2 observation towers that show that level of control that Tulum exercised over whoever tried to enter this zone.
In the central area of the site the main buildings are found, outlined by a second interior wall. The major part of these buildings had ceremonial functions. The Castle is the most outstanding for its size, location and the singular facade of the outer temple with 3 entrances decorated with serpent columns, complemented by a goddess descending and 2 zoomorphic masks in the corners. It’s worth mentioning that the current image of The Castle is a product of diverse stages of construction, the most recent of which is represented by 2 small temples located on both sides of the main stairway. In front of The Castle there is a platform, possibly for dances and on the sides other buildings that complement the arrangement.
To the north the Temple of the Descending God is found, made up of a small base and an ornamental building on top with the image of this deity, the main iconographic element of the city. In front of the aforementioned arrangement is the main road, a true road with diverse residential buildings, the most important of which is the Temple of the Frescoes, constructed originally by a room surrounded by a porch on 3 of its sides. The painted murals that adorn its walls, according to the investigator Arthur Miller, is a series of supernatural beings in the underworld that for a moment appear portrayed between dark and light and constitute one of the most important testimonies of the pre Hispanic Mayan murals. The corners of the building are decorated by masks with serpent elements that possible symbolize its association with Kukulcan.
The House of the Columns and the House of Halach Uinik, located in the roadway area, are interesting examples of the residential architecture of Tulum while the House of the Cenote located in the north sector, documents the importance that the Mayans had given to the aquatic cult. The Kukulcan group located just to the north of The Castle, combines diverse structures, the most notable being the Temple of The Wind God named for the roundness of its base, traditionally related to Kukulcan as the God of the winds or with Ehecatl, the deity equivalent in the center of Mexico.
The area of the marina is a small entrance to the sea between the rocks, enough for Mayan ships dedicated to trade around the peninsula to dock. Today this area is closed as it is reserved for the conservation and nesting area of marine turtles. Visitors interested in swimming at the beautiful beach in Tulum can climb down the stairs which allows for beach access to the southern beach of the pre Hispanic site and adds another attraction to visit this site.
The archaeological zone doesn’t have its own parking, although there is one in the commercial center which charges a small fee, not controled by the INAH. The distance between the parking and the entrance to the zone is about 1km and can be walked or onboard a small train whose fee is 20 pesos (return). Inside the area there is a store, ticket office, bathrooms and certified guides who offer tours during visiting hours.
In the town and surrounding areas there are hotels and restaurants as well as diverse shops and stalls that sell arts and crafts from the region.
Monday to Sunday from 8am to 5pm, the last entrance is at 4.30pm.
Want to visit Tulum Mayan ruins? Then join us on tour!
Tulum and Zip Line Tour – a combination of mayan culture and adventure
Tulum & Xel Ha Tour – enjoy snorkeling in a natural aquarium and a visit to the ruins of Tulum
Mayan Jungle and Tulum – or choose a full day packed with mayan history and fun outdoor activities
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