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Archaeology in Riviera Maya

The ancient cities all along Quintana Roo’s coast bear silent witness to the presence of the Mayan Culture starting from as early as 200 AD and reaching the height of its splendor in the Post Classic Period (900-1200 AD). In the Maya were great navigators and skilled merchants and their coastal trading ports were strategically located to serve the intense trade activity between civilization from the Gulf of Mexico to Honduras and Panama.

South of Cancun, the Riviera Maya is set between pristine white beaches and jade green jungle. Here in Playa del Carmen visitors can stop at the ruins of Xaman-Ha, some elegant temples scattered amongst the modern day deluxe residential zone of Playacar.

Four miles further south is Xcaret, the ancient city of Pole, at one time one of the most important ports and ceremonial centers of the eastern cost of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Pilgrims stopped to purify themselves in the sacred water of the city’s cenote before leaving on their journey to the neighboring island of Cozumel. Although the site is located inside the theme park of the same name, you don’t have to go trough the park to visit the ancient city.

Xel-Ha, ‘where the water is born’ in Maya, was also a major port. Its ceremonial center consist of five groups of building and palaces connected by sacbes (‘white roads’). A few walls still preserve some wonderful paintings of regional birds, handprints and the rain god, Chaac, amongst other motifs.

The walled city of Tulum faces the horizon atop a cliff in front of the waste turquoise sea. Known as ‘Zama’ or ‘sunrise’ in Maya, it was a major religious center and thriving trading port that received vast numbers of canoes filled with merchandise: salt’ sacred feathers, jadeite, honey, dyes, and other goods to be distributed to the interior of their territory.

Today, the small bay in the shadow of the main structure (El Castillo), welcome visitors to a refreshing swim after exploring the beautiful site. Both El Castillo and the Temple of the Descending God are decorated with upside-down stucco figures of Ab Muzen Cab, associated with the Bee god, a recurring theme throughout the site. The temple of the Frescos is a good example of a Classic Period Mayan architecture.
Its blue fresco paintings speak of the three worlds of Mayan cosmology – The Underworld, The Earthly, and the Celestial Planes – and of their principle gods.  

Some 25 miles inland from Tulum is the very ancient Mayan city of Coba, which rises up between five placid lakes hidden in the vibrant green tropical jungle. At the height of its splendor, the city covered over 44 square miles territory and was home to some 50,000 people. It rivaled Tikal (Guatemala) – with each maintained close commercial ties – in importance. Coba exercised economic control over the region through a complex networks of sacbes, one of which connected to Yaxchuna, 60 miles away, the longest of these roads found to date in Mundo Maya. The city is composed of several groups of buildings: Coba, Chumuc Mul, Nohoch Mul, Las Pinturas, Macanxoc and Kukulcan are some of them. The site is so extensive the staff park have provided bicycles and tricycles to enable visitors to reach all the groups. The view extending into the horizon from the top of Nohuch Mul – a 138 feet the tallest pyramid in the Northern Yucatan Peninsula -  is breathtaking.

In the shadow of tall Pich and Flame trees, the pyramids at Muyil welcome visitors with the chirping of dozens of birds feeding in the surrounding fruit-laden orange and guanabana trees. The ancient city’s main, ‘El Castillo’, rises some 56 feet from the jungle floor. It is very similar in style to the pyramids in Tikal (Guatemala)and has a curious hollow tower at the top. One of the doorways found here still has its zapote hardwood lintel and above this are some lovely stucco moldings of cranes. More than 260 jadeite and shell ornamental pieces were found at Mujil, a major port of entry for goods destined for inland communities during the Post Classic Period. Some sacbes lead directly to a lagoon situated about ˝ miles away.

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