One of the reasons that we chose a resort on the Riviera Maya for our Mexican getaway was its close proximity to the Mayan ruins at Tulum. Visiting this historic site was definitely one of the highlights of our vacation.
I was awed by its location high on a limestone cliff overlooking the beautiful turquoise waters of the Caribbean. The original Mayan name for the settlement was Zama meaning dawn, very apt considering it’s eastern exposure facing the rising sun. It was early explorers who gave the place it’s current name which simply means wall, referring to the stone barricade surrounding it on three sides. The ocean provides protection on the fourth. Tulum was the only Mayan city built on the coast and one of few that were walled.
Within those walls are found the imposing Castillo, or castle, Tulum’s tallest and most famous building. Standing atop the 12 metre bluff, it has a commanding view of the ocean and many miles of coastline. Other buildings that remain today formed the city’s centre where ceremonial and political activities took place. They include the king’s palace, a meeting hall and several temples. Stone outlines are all that remain of lesser buildings that were mostly built of wood.
Tulum was a seaport and a centre of trade. A grassy expanse in front of the palace was once a bustling marketplace. Below, an opening in the offshore reef leads directly into a small cove, its sandy beach a perfect parking lot for trading canoes.
The earliest date found at the site is A.D. 564, inscribed on a stelae, but its heyday is thought to have been between 1000 and 1600 A.D. Looking at the heavy stone structures, the graceful columns and the intricate carvings that can still be seen on some of the walls, one can only wonder at the architectural achievements of the settlement’s early inhabitants and ponder what might have brought about the demise of such a civilization.
‘Parking lot’ with lighthouse in the distance
Present day inhabitants!
We didn’t actually have to leave our resort to see ruins. Remains of a small temple to the Mayan goddess of fertility are located on the grounds and next to them, parts of a much larger Spanish chapel where some 120 bodies were found interred. Overlooking the ocean near the beach stands a Mayan lighthouse very similar to the one at Tulum.
Remains of the Spanish chapel