The Yucatan Peninsula was once the land of the Maya, who left many landmarks in the form of temples and cities which are still remarkable well preserved. Each one is impressive in their own way, and in today’s blog we are going to look at the unique characteristics of three of the most well know and why they must be visited at least once in your lifetime. A trip to the Yucatan is not complete without a visit to one of these architectural wonders.
Tulum was built to be a fortress, situated on top of steep cliffs with three walls offering protection. It is of the last cities built and occupied by the Maya, peaking between the 13th and 15th centuries. The 12-meter (39 ft) tall cliffs give this location it own uniqueness and made it a very strategic location, serving as a major gateway for connecting the Yucatan Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico.
The buildings here differ in style as some were built during different periods of time. Tulum’s main pyramid is called El Castillo (The Castle) which was used as a lighthouse. Next to it is the Temple of the Frescoes, a well preserved building with a painted mural inside. The House of the Columns is a 4 room building with a series of large columns.
Once you have finished your tour you can swim down below on the secluded beach, beneath the towering walls behind you.
Muyil is located 15 kilometres south of Tulum, on the Sian Ka’an lagoon. It is one of the earliest settlements on the Caribbean Coast, with two archeological sites, although only one is open to the public. The site itself is not huge but it is much less visited and you will have more of the place to yourself.
As a visitor you not only get to see the ruins but also see part of the huge Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, an ecological area of 1.3 million acres protecting coastal reefs, mangroves, 350 types of birds, pumas, jaguars, monkeys, crocodiles, and turtles.
Like many Maya sites, it was also a place of religious reverence, with the buildings mainly used for civic-religious and residential use. Sian Kaán Muyil’s architecture distinguishes it to other sites due to its rounded edges on the pyramid and other buildings, a stark contrast in comparison to some of the more exacting architecture of the inland sites.
The Castillo pyramid, at 57 feet high, is the largest intact structure and also the highest pyramid on the Riviera Maya Coast. Behind the main Castillo structure is a path that leads you to a trail into the actual Sian Ka’an area, one of the highlights of visiting the Muyil ruins. There is an observation tower that gives a great view over the treetops, looking over to the lagoon.
This is the second most visited of Mexico’s archaeological sites. 1000 years ago it was one of the greatest cities of Central America, covering 5 square kilometers and surrounded by dense forest. It was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It is made up of several structures:
The Temple of Kukulkan is the main attraction in Chichen Itza. Also known as “El Castillo” (The Castle), it stands 30 metres (90 feet) tall, with staircases on each side numbering 365 steps in the number of days in a year, and a series of nine square terraces. It is dedicated to a feathered serpent deity similar to the Aztec Quetzalcoatl, and was used for religious and astronomical observation purposes. During the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, in the late afternoon, the northwest corner of the pyramid casts a series of shadows creating the visual phenomenon of a serpent slithering down the staircase.
The Observatory El Caracol (The Snail) is a round tower rebuilt several times during its time of use in order to calibrate its astronomical observation capacity, believed to enable tracking the movement of the sun, moon and Venus and other stars.
The Great Ball Court is the largest and best preserved ball court in ancient Mesoamerica.
The Temples of the Jaguar overlooks the ball court and has an entrance guarded by two, large columns, carved in the familiar feathered serpent motif. Inside is a large mural depicting a battle scene.
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