Ruinas de Tulum Things to Do

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    Temple of the Wind

    by goodfish Written Apr 25, 2014

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    This is the shutterbugs’ favorite because of its picturesque location on the edge of the cliffs. Templo del Viento is part of a cluster of small structures called the Kukulcán Group after the feathered serpent god which swept the way for Chaac, the rain god, with the wind of his mighty tail. Aside from being a place of worship (it has an altar) there’s a story roundabout that holes in the roof produced a whistle to warn the population of approaching hurricanes but I’ve been unable to verify that claim.

    What is unique to this temple is its circular platform. Raised structural bases were a necessity in a region which can see 60” of rain a year but they are usually square or rectangular: circular forms were more difficult to construct and disallowed for easy addition of expansional wings. It’s thought that temples such as this one were specific to Kukulcán (or Ehecatl or Quetzalcoatl, depending on the region) because their round shape allowed the wind god to slide effortlessly around it. That the temple itself is square is a characteristic of the Postclassic period when, like many others of Tulum’s structures, construction was not as meticulous as in earlier eras.

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    House of the Halach Uinic

    by goodfish Written Apr 23, 2014

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    The Halach Uinic was the hereditary head honcho of a Mayan city-state, thus the name of this “palace” where one of these may have lived. Information on the structure was scarce - multiple rooms, sleeping benches, and an area for family worship - so it’s probably more interesting to consider what the inhabitants might have looked like.

    The Maya - especially the nobility - were very particular about their appearance, practicing multiple forms of painful self-mutilation in the pursuit of beauty. You’ll notice the funny, bean-shaped heads depicted in carved or painted images? That was the result of deliberate flattening of an infant’s skull shortly after birth, when the bone was still soft. Crossed eyes were also considered attractive: small balls of wax or pitch were tied with string to the bangs of small children, in front the nose, to encourage them to permanently turn inward. They also filed their teeth to points, and decorated front incisors by drilling and filling the holes with decorative stones.

    Elaborate tattoos and large, heavy plugs inserted into ear lobes were routine among both men and women, and males sometimes sported lip and nose plugs as well. Top all this off with liberal applications of body paint, a fancy hairdo and jewelry - jade was especially valued for its believed medicinal as well as decorative qualities - and you have yourself one good-looking Mayan.

    You’ll find that “Bee god” again on the front on the house, under a modern, protective awning of thatch.

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    House of the Columns

    by goodfish Written Mar 28, 2014

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    This is one of the largest secular buildings at the site, and another I was able to find very little information about. Tulum’s nobility - who probably lived in the house across the street - were thought to have used it as an office but it could have have served as a residence. It was L shaped, had its own shrine, and the columns for which it’s named would have supported the roof.

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    What's it all about?

    by goodfish Updated Mar 27, 2014

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    I mentioned in my intro that there are signs in English throughout the site but as you can see from my photos, they’re not long on content. While probably enough for the casual tourist more interested in the beach or the scenery, visitors with a deeper interest in Maya history will either want to book a tour (available at the entrance) or do some boning up in advance. Here are a couple of sources to get you started, and more can be found with some digging around on the web.

    http://mundomaya.travel/en/arqueologia/top-10/item/tulum.html#descubrelo

    http://moon.com/2014/02/the-scenic-ruins-of-tulum-archaeological-zone/

    Some background for Spanish speakers (or paste text into google translate):

    http://www.inah.gob.mx/component/content/article/265-red-zonas-arqueologicas/5491-zona-arqueologica-de-tulum

    This is a nice virtual tour! Use the dropdown in the upper right to choose views of the different structures. The information (información) about each is only in Spanish but it’ll give you a good idea of what to expect at the site:

    http://www.inah.gob.mx/paseos/Tulum/tour.html

    itunes has an app:

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tulum-be-your-own-guide/id731412870?mt=8

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    Why should you go?

    by goodfish Updated Mar 27, 2014

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    It’s not the biggest, oldest or most important of archaeological sites in Mexico but its proximity to busy seaside resorts, ease of access and picturesque setting on the coast make Tulum the third most-visited in the country. There may have been a settlement here 2000 years ago but most of what you will see dates to around 1200-1500 AD: the pinnacle of its economic, religious and cultural development at the tail end of the Postclassic Mayan era. Some of the structures rest upon the foundations of earlier buildings so its story is older than it looks but the light of Mayan civilization had all but blinked out some three centuries before this city’s visible remains were constructed.

    Its name was Zamá, which roughly translates to “City of the Dawning Sun”, “Towards the Sunrise” or “Morning", probably for it’s east-facing position on the highest point of today’s Riviera Maya. It served as the seaport for the larger inland city of Cobá, a trade and ceremonial center, and had a population of 1000-1,600 (some sources estimate fewer) at its peak. “Discovered” by a Spanish expedition in 1518, it was one of very few Pre-Colombian sites still occupied at the time of the Conquest, and it was abandoned completely - the inhabitants thought to have been decimated by European-imported disease - by the end of that century. With the exception of a few brief mentions, it was forgotten for nearly 250 years until rediscovered and documented by intrepid American lawyer and ambassador John Lloyd Stevens, and British architect Frederick Catherwood in 1841. The first reference of the ancient city as “Tulum” - Yucatec Mayan for “wall”, descriptive of the massive fortification enclosing the largest of the ruins - may have been in a document written by one Juan Pio Perez in 1840 but I’m unable to find the text.

    Likely due to its late-era construction and function as a satellite community for the older, sprawling metropolis of Cobá, Tulum’s buildings are smaller and less meticulously fabricated than others of its Maya cousins; its roughly hewn stones once hidden beneath heavy layers of brightly painted stucco. Nonetheless, its relative level of preservation and interesting history - not to mention a killer eyeful of Yucatan coast - offer something for everyone from the most serious of students to most casual of tourists. If archeology is your thing, plan for the better part of a day here. Not so much? A couple of hours will do. Tours are recommended if you do not arrive armed with your own research.

    I'll cover some fun stuff about some of the individual ruins in separate reviews.

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    Temple of the Descending God

    by goodfish Written Mar 27, 2014

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    This funny, lopsided little temple was my favorite. It isn’t all catawampus because it’s falling apart but because it was built on the tilted roof of an older structure. Like the Temple of the Frescoes, this one was also decorated, inside and out, with murals of which only those on one interior wall survive, and which are off-limits to visitors. The precious little information I could find on them indicated that the central figures pictured are Maya gods Yumil Kaxob (maize), Kinich Ahau (sun) and Chaac (rain).

    Our tumbling/bee god is here again, of course, taking a nosedive over the doorway.

    This is a good time to insert a caution: information on the ruins - both written and what visitors have been told by tour guides - appears to vary and is based on enough conjecture that I would be hesitant to accept as fact much which wasn’t presented by archeologists/anthropologists with a specialization in Maya history. At least be wary of sources which never include the “might be” or “we don’t know" factor?

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    Temple of the Frescoes

    by goodfish Updated Mar 26, 2014

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    The most valuable part of this temple is the part we're unfortunately not really allowed to see: the murals for which it’s named. Just as unfortunately, the part that you, the reader here, won’t see until you go is what’s missing from this photo as I somehow neglected to get a shot of the entire thing. DOH! So use your imagination here...

    It was constructed in three stages - a small, inner oratory enclosed by a larger, columned portico, and a small shrine added on top - which are thought to be symbolic of the underworld, mortal life on earth, and the heavens. It’s on the stuccoed facade of interior chamber where, sometime during the latter half of the 15th century, the depictions of Maya deities believed to be Itzamná (creator/sky), Chaac (rain) and Ixchel (fertility/moon/midwifery) were outlined in black and dabbled in once-bright blues, greens and reds. The entire exterior would have been painted as well but the murals survive because they were protected by the gallery where colors more exposed to the elements have largely worn away.

    The face of Itzamná or Chaac is present on the corners of the outer portico, and the descending/bee god, Ah Muzencab, is here as well in a central niche in the lower frieze. To the left of the upper oratory's doorway are two red handprints, one of which has seven digits and may be symbolic of Itzamná, These are common to other Maya sites, and they’re still a mystery as none of the theories about their meaning have yet been proven. The temple - as did so many of the others at Tulum - also served as an astronomical marker: the first rays of the sun light the center column of the lower level on the equinox.

    If the light is just right, you might be able to make out some of the frescoes but they are faint, and were too deep in shadow at the time we were there.

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    If they could talk...

    by goodfish Updated Mar 23, 2014

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    You enter the park through one of five narrow, tunnel-like openings in the wall - the “tulum” - from which the ancient city acquired its more contemporary name. It is a doozy: nearly 1,300 feet on the longest side, 540 on the shortest, 10-16 feet high, and 26 feet thick in places. This fortification runs along the north, south and west sides of the site, the 40-foot cliffs on the eastern, coastal side providing a natural barrier.

    The city was much larger than it appears as most of the population lived outside of the walls so it’s thought to have possibly been a dividing line between the elite religious and ruling sorts who lived within and lowly ordinary folk; a separation of sacred and profane. It may also have been defensive, as hostilities between Mayan city-states were common and well documented. It may have been both. Based the extraordinary amount of work it would have taken to construct the thing plus the fact that some other Mayan cities were fortified with substantial walls, parapets, ditches, moats, and/or earthworks as well, I’d guess it was a Pre-Columbian version of the Medieval castle. After all, you don’t need 26 feet of solid rock just to keep the local riffraff from stinkin’ up the joint, do you?

    Also, the largest concentration of ceremonial structures were already enclosed by a much smaller, inner wall which would have limited access to (in all likelihood) the holiest ground.

    See the slightly rosy color of the stone? The wall was originally painted blood red - which would have made it doubly intimidating.

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    El Castillo: Stairway to the Heavens

    by goodfish Updated Mar 22, 2014

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    “The Castle” is the elephant in the room: a formidable mountain of of grey limestone that dominates the eastern side of the site. Similar to pyramids in other ancient Maya cities, Tulum’s focal point has a central stairway rising to a ceremonial platform and shrine at the top. While it’s by far the tallest structure in the park, it’s not as towering as those at the Cobá, Uxmal, Tikal or some others of the Maya ruins, nor was its finished appearance part of an original plan.

    El Castillo was built in multiple stages, in different eras, with a central room of the older, larger level filled in at some point to serve as a base for the elevated temple, and the staircase extended to reach. The doorway to the 2-room shrine is divided into thirds by columns decorated to look like the serpent god Kukulkan, and the image of the descending - or bee - god fills the center niche in the frieze above. In close proximity to the front and sides of the castle are other smaller temples, platforms and random structures for religious use; the whole enclosed by a wall which created a sacred, ceremonial plaza which was probably off-limits to the hoi polloi...as it is today: this fragile complex is roped off and inaccessible to me and thee. The stuccoed facades of these buildings would have been painted bright red, yellow and blue, and decorated with other carved or plastered elements which have largely since deteriorated.

    A great deal has been written about the shrine at the top of the castillo doing double duty as a lighthouse of sorts but “facts" about just how that function was accomplished vary to the extent that I’m hesitant to present any one of them as such. Let’s just say it’s believed that by lining up the space between torches or windows, canoes coming in from sea could find the opening in the reef that allowed safe passage to the beach. It also served as visible landmark for travelers through the dense Yucatán jungle.

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    Bee aware

    by goodfish Written Mar 20, 2014

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    Look for this fellow above the doorways of several buildings.

    He’s alternately called the “Descending God”, “Diving God”, “Wasp Star” or “Bee God”, and theories about just what he's all about are just as many. Fact is, no one really knows so I’m going with the insect - although we may be dealing with two different deities here as some of them look more human and less bug-like than others but that's anyone’s best guess.

    Certain stingless bees, meliponines, have been cultivated in this part of the world for thousands of years and were considered sacred as their honey was used for many purposes: medicinal, culinary and religious. Fermented with the bark of the balché tree, it made a hallucinogenic brew that may account for the Maya's rather peculiar taste in decorating?

    The Bee God, Ah Muzencab, was also connected to the spiritual world, and the image of a descending figure can be found at Cobá and several other ancient Mayan cities.

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    Know Before You Go:

    by goodfish Updated Mar 13, 2014

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    • Entry fee is 57 pesos (about $4.25 U.S.) at time of this writing but prices could change so check the website below for any updates. Credit cards and foreign currency are not accepted, and although some tourists have managed to use U.S. dollars, I wouldn’t count on it. You may want some pesos for shopping afterwards anyway so exchange/withdraw some cash at your hotel before you go.

    • Drop-off point for public transportation and parking for private vehicles (fee) is just off Hwy 307 near a marketplace cluster of restaurants and shops. From here it’s a half-mile level, easy walk or $2 ride on an open trolley to the entrance.

    • There are restrooms near the entrance but none beyond that point

    • This is an ecologically protected area so no food waste, disposable cups, smoking or pets are allowed. Oversize backpacks are also banned.

    • The site is tropically humid, very hot much of the time, and there’s little shade so wear lightweight clothing, a hat, sunscreen, and bring plenty of bottled water. Also pack mosquito repellent and maybe an umbrella for protection from both sun and/or the unexpected shower so common in this region.

    • There is no access to the interiors of the structures, and most exteriors are roped off. Please don’t climb on walls or foundations.

    • You can reach the small beach at the foot of the cliff via a long wooden stairway but there are no changing rooms: wear your swimsuit under your clothes and bring a towel

    • The paths and stairs to some of the structures aren’t especially wheelchair or stroller-friendly, and I wouldn’t advise trying to visit with either

    • Try arrive as early in the morning as possible as the site is mobbed with tours by 10:00 - 11:00 AM

    Speaking of tours, this is a hot destination with cruise ships docking in Cozumel. Their tours involve a ferry to the mainland - from which passengers are bused an hour or so to Tulum - and there are frequent reports of tourists becoming very seasick on that transfer. Bleh. If you have a weak stomach, take your favorite motion sickness medication an hour or so before boarding. As there are also frequent reports of the ferry arriving late for sailing time, booking a tour through the cruise line is recommended for this one as the ship will not wait for tardy independent travelers.

    http://mundomaya.travel/en/arqueologia/top-10/item/tulum.html

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    El Castillo

    by kyoub Written Jul 28, 2004

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    Castle

    Th most dominant building in Tulum was called El Castillo by the Spaniards because it looked like a castle, it must be one.
    Wh knows for sure, perhaps they were right.
    For sure, El Castillo was on fantastic lighthouse..

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    Tulum

    by kyoub Written Jul 28, 2004

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    Temple

    The ruins of Tulum are on top of a sheer cliff, high above the shimmering waters of the Mexican Caribbean.
    Tulum, Maya for "wall", is protected by three massive walls and a 40 ft cliff with a sandy cove at its base.
    From this beach, the seafaring inhabitants launched fishing and trade boats establishing Tulum as the principal port on the coast.

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    The Walled City by the Sea

    by Waxbag Written Dec 13, 2003

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    Tulum on the Sea

    Tulum would not be a huge attraction if it not were for its extraordinary location look over the vast blue sea. The temples hang off 40 meter cliffs as the turquoise water crashes below.

    The Tulum is Mayan for wall. There is a wall that completely encloses this tiny city whose occupants were barely hanging on to their civilization in the Late Post-classic period (AD 1200-1521). The buildings and temples are nearly doll-house size. There are no grand temples like those in nearby Chichen-Itza or Coba. However there are some nice murals and carvings in Toltec style that are very interesting.

    Try to imagine the Spanish explores running down the coast in the Caribbean Sea and looking over to see the brightly painted buildings of Tulum and a massive ceremonial fire burning atop of El Castillo, the sea side watch tower fortress. It might have been frightening, even with the civilization in decline.

    Come here early to avoid the entire maddening tourist influx from the cruise ships and Cancun. The sunrise is quite special here.

    Hours 7am to 5pm
    Cost about $3 US

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    El Castillo

    by darthmilmo Written Mar 6, 2003

    The perfect picture "el Castillo" makes for a kewl contrast between the beautiful light blue colors of the Caribbean sea, and the impressive craftsmanship present on the Mayan ruins, which are located atop a cliff.

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