is another famous Maya ruin, attracting more than 2 million visitor
a year. The name means walled city and while Tulum’s architecture
is not as sophisticated as other sites its cliff-side location by
the blue-green waters of the Caribbean is breathtaking. First known
as Zama (city of the dawn), it is though to have been built as a
ceremonial site for worshipping the sun. It later developed into
a strategic military and trading post. Tulum has always held special
significance for the Maya. From AD 987 to 1194, it was a principal
city in the ancient League of the Mayapán. When the Spanish Conquistadors
arrived, they spotted Zama from their ships and were so intimidated
by its vivid 25-ft-high blue, white, and red walls that they were
reluctant to land.
Although abandoned 75 years after the Spanish Conquest, it remained
independent for 300 years thereby becoming a symbol of freedom for
the enslaved Maya. During the 1847 War of the Castes it became one
of the last outposts of the rebel Mayas. When the Mexican army finally
conceded defeat in 1915, Tulum was given to the victorious Cruzob
Mayas as one of the holdings in the independent territory of Quintana
Roo. The Maya gave Tulum back to the Mexican government in 1935.
Unfortunately many of the buildings have been blocked off to preserve
the delicate frescoes. Be sure to visit the two-story Temple of
the Frescoes, to the left of the entryway. The temple's vaulted
roof and corbelled arch are excellent examples of Classic Maya architecture.
Faint traces of blue-green frescoes outlined in black on the inner
and outer walls are honoring ancient Maya gods.
The largest and most famous building is El Castillo (castle), which
rests at the edge of a 40-foot cliff just past the Temple of the
Frescoes. The front wall has carvings of the Descending God thought
to be the Bee God or Corn God. Alongside are columns depicting the
plumed serpent god, Kukulcán, first introduced to the Maya by the
Toltecs. It appears the Castillo may have been the watchtower to
monitor enemies approaching by sea. To the left is the Temple of
the Descending God – named for the carving of a winged god plummeting
to earth over the doorway. The same deity is seen in stucco masks
along the corners and is thought to be the Bee God, Ab Muzen Cab,
guardian of the coast and of commerce. Most of the other remaining
buildings have flat roofs resting on wood beams and columns with
few distinguishing features. At the north side, atop a hill are
a few small altars offering an excellent view of the ocean and the
Castillo. The tiny cove to the left of the Castillo is where the
ancient Maya launched their canoes to trade along the coastal cities.
Open daily 8 AM – 6 PM. Admission: $5, use of video cameras an additional
$4. Free Sundays and holidays. Located on highway 307, 130 km (81
mi) south of Cancun.
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