Izamal – Yucatan – Mexico



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Izamal – Yucatan


This is situated in the north of the state of Yucatan, some 72 km west of Merida on federal road 180 leading to Cancun. When you reach the town of Hoctun, take the turn-off to Izamal. The archaeological site is located in the city of Izamal and is open Monday to Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. It has restaurants, hotels, toilet facilities and an arts and crafts centre where you can purchase objects made locally as well as in other Mexican states. The structures open to visitors are the K’inich Kak Moo, Itzamatul, Conejo and Habuc, as well as the Monastery of San Antonio de Padua, built on top of the pre-Hispanic platform known as Ppap Hoi Chak.

History of the explorations

Chroniclers from the 16th and 17th centuries were the first people to describe the constructions at Izamal and propose the first hypotheses about the functions of the different buildings. In the mid-16th century, Bishop Landa mentioned 11 or 12 constructions, one of which was used to build the Franciscan monastery of San Antonio de Padua. In the chapter on the constructions in Yucatan, his description of the K’inich Kak Moo building matches exactly the characteristics of the ruins found during the excavations. After the Great Pyramid of Cholula in Puebla and the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, this is probably the third largest construction in the whole of Mesoamerica. Another important structure at this site is the Kabul, which the Franciscan chronicler Lizana mentioned in the 17th century. During the 19th century, some of the travellers who reached Yucatan visited Izamal and the Kabul caught their attention. John L. Stephens was the first to mention this building and a splendid stucco mask which was visible at the time and which Catherwood drew to illustrate the work of the famous traveller. Several years later, Desire Charnay recorded the stucco decoration on this building in greater detail, but unfortunately the ornamentation has not stood the test of time. The more recent archaeological research commenced in the 1960s, when Victor Segovia Pinto excavated part of the K’inich Kak Moo and a section of the Municipal Palace platform. In the following decade, the archaeologist Ruben Maldonado Cardenas conducted prospections along the Izamal-Ake causeway and at the Chaltun Ha building; he also performed archaeological rescue work at the place now occupied by the long-distance bus terminal. Soon after, Charles L. Lincoln drew up the first map of Izamal, or the area now occupied by the urban sprawl, but included only the most visible monumental buildings. The Izamal Archaeological Project was launched in 1992 with the mission of studying and preserving this important site, its architecture and the materials associated with the buildings. For over a decade, the most relevant buildings, such as the K’inich Kak Moo, Itzamatul and Habuc, have been researched and restored, as well as other lesser constructions such as Chaltun Ha, El Conejo and a section of the causeway leading to the Ake ruins. The project has involved a variety of experts, mainly archaeologists and restorers, who have undertaken different aspects of the research, such as prospections, the study of the settlement pattern and the architecture, and the analysis of the ceramic, lithic and malacological materials. Thanks to these efforts, we have now been able to interpret part of the cultural history of Izamal and make conclusions about some of the daily activities conducted by the people of the ancient city to survive as a polity and a regional economic centre. The project continues to this day with the restoration of the K’inich Kak Moo and Habuc buildings, as well as surveys of the Ah Kin Chel region in the search for more information about the sites associated with this metropolis.

Pre-Hispanic history

The earliest evidence of occupation found at Izamal corresponds to the Middle Preclassic (700-450 BC), when the urban planning process probably commenced. Between the Late Preclassic (450-150 BC), Protoclassic (150 BC-AD 250/300) and Early Classic (AD 250/300- 600), there was a great emphasis on construction, and the site became the most important centre in a large section of northern Yucatan plains. In the Late Classic (AD 600-800), the city gradually entered a decline, and during the Terminal Classic (AD 800-1000) and Early Postclassic (AD 1000-1200) it was controlled by another polity. By the Late Postclassic (AD 1200- 1550), it had been semi-abandoned, although it still retained its religious importance, and in the colonial period it regained its status as a densely populated city and remains so to this day. The pre-Hispanic settlement is regarded as a first-class site, on a par with others such as Chichen Itza and Uxmal, which also have monumental, albeit smaller, buildings. Recent research has confirmed that the urban area dating from the pre-Hispanic period covered over 50 sq km and was therefore 12 times larger than the modern-day city. In addition to important archaeological monuments, such as the K’inich Kak Moo – the largest in the Yucatan Peninsula – the present-day city also boasts numerous colonial buildings, including one of the finest monasteries built by the Franciscan order in Yucatan. Due to the fact that the colonial city was built on the pre-Hispanic site, much of the ancient settlement was destroyed. Nevertheless, it is still possible to see the large buildings in the city centre and numerous pre-Hispanic platforms in the adjacent area that look like hills. Because of this, Izamal is known as the City of the Hills, and in the past the people worshipped an idol called Itzamna, who under the names of Zamna and Itzamatul, the creator and benefactor of the Maya, was venerated in two of the main buildings in the central plaza of the site.

The site has a long sequence of development and over 2,500 years of occupation, stretching from the Middle Preclassic to the present day. The main activity during the pre-Hispanic period would appear to correspond to the Protoclassic and Early and Late Classic, which coincided with the construction of the most important buildings. These display a type of architecture known as the Megalithic style, which is differentiated from other types of construction by, among other things, the considerable size of the blocks of stone used. These architectural traits can be found in a wide area of northern Yucatan. This city also boasted an extensive network of causeways, demonstrating the complex level of social organisation attained by Izamal as the principal centre of an important region in the north of the peninsula.

It was precisely during this period of more intense activity that the settlement achieved its largest form and monumentality, reflecting the presence of numerous small sites situated on the fringes, initially with a certain degree of autonomy in relation to the central site, which as they were absorbed by the metropolis became more dependent on a centralised political and economic power. The existence of these peripheral sites indicates a population growth, which is manifested in the increased density of domestic constructions over a large area, amid the public buildings and the residences of the ruling class. The continual destructions that the archaeological site has undergone over the centuries have left very little information about the social stratum that governed the pre-Hispanic city and surrounding district, and about its possible relations with the governors of other cities. To date, we still lack sufficient information to be able to confirm that some of the burials found in the core area of the site correspond to one or other of the ruling dynasties. Neither have any stelae or objects with graphic or written information about this elite class been found. The historical sources all refer to a period subsequent to the construction of the great structures and causeway network, when the capital of the region known as Ah Kin Chel during the period of the Spanish Conquest was no longer this great metropolis. Thanks to various surface surveys, it has been possible to corroborate the existence of two important construction periods in the entire region. The first one corresponds to the Megalithic architecture and the heyday of Izamal as the regional capital, begun in the Late Preclassic and continuing throughout the Early Classic, while by second period, the Terminal Classic and Early Postclassic, that architecture had been virtually destroyed and had adopted the name of the Puuc style; the presence of this type of architecture indicates that there was more than a simple trading contact between different polities during this period, and even suggests the subjugation of numerous settlements to a single governing centre based at Chichen Itza. Although Izamal suffered more than 450 years of constant destruction, it is still possible to see enormous residential constructions inside the urban area. Most of them have been damaged by the subsequent construction of streets, the massive extraction of stones and intense looting. Even so, 163 buildings have been recorded inside the urban area of the present-day city. The archaeological map reveals a series of large plazas adjacent to the main plaza. The presence and distribution of other lesser constructions indicates that there were various open spaces delimited by the same structures still visible today. Izamal entered a decline in the Late Classic, almost certainly influenced by the growing importance of the Itza people, based at Chichen Itza, because according to the historical sources the site was conquered by Kak u’Pakal, one of the governors of that city. At the time of the Spanish Conquest, the main buildings had been abandoned – although we know that there were small hamlets around the core area ruled by Ah Kin Chel – but Izamal remained an important centre of worship for the Maya, which is why the Spanish conquerors chose this place to establish their presence. Izamal offers visitors a journey through various periods of the past and the chance to gain a greater appreciation of the Yucatec Maya culture.

Site description

The civic-ceremonial precinct of Izamal is one of the largest in the Maya lowlands because altogether its buildings exceed one million cubic metres. It consists of a series of adjacent plazas. The main one is delimited to the north by the K’inich Kak Moo, to the south by the Ppap Hoi Chak, to the east by the Itzamatul and to the west by the Kabul. A secondary plaza is situated to the west and south of the Ppap Hoi Chak and Kabul, respectively, and then sealed by the Hun Pik Tok building and the platform on which the Municipal Palace was built. A third plaza, to the south of the main one, is delimited to the north by the Itzamatul and to the west by the Ppap Hoi Chak, while the south side is sealed by the building known as the Fundacion, which has not been excavated. Situated around these plazas are residential structures such as the Habuc and Conejo, which have been the focus of recent archaeological research. On the fringe of the city are various residential groups with their own monumental complexes, as in the case of Chaltun Ha, which was linked to the core area of the site by an internal causeway.

K’inich Kak Moo.

This platform adopts a fairly rectangular plan with the main axis more or less oriented to the north, and six stairways leading to the top platform. It consists of a large terrace that surrounds most of the platform, with a slightly sloping wall; situated on this terrace is another large volume consisting of a sloping wall and apron moulding, which together rise to a height of 10 m. On a second terrace there was once a vertical wall rising to the top tier of the platform, 17 m above ground level. The four corners of the platform are rounded but not inset, in keeping with other buildings at the site. The stairway on the south side is the largest, comprising two flights of steps. On the top platform is a building with nine tiers and a stairway with small balustrades. The steps are made of small stones, corresponding to the Puuc architecture.


This is the second largest and the second most important construction at the site, after the K’inich Kak Moo. The archaeological information obtained to date indicates three construction phases. The first was characterised by an almost square-plan building, consisting of various stepped tiers with sloping walls and inset, rounded corners, typical of the early buildings, rising to a height of just over 20 m from ground level; it displayed four access stairways, one on each side of the structure, of which nothing remains. During the second period, this early structure was covered, although the tiers were maintained and the sloping walls replaced by vertical walls with right-angled corners; access was restricted to the west side, overlooking the main plaza. The final modification occurred when a large platform was built over the earlier constructions; the access to this structure was via a stairway on the south side, part of which has survived to this day.


This building is situated in the courtyard of the Izamal Arts and Crafts Centre, where it is still possible to see part of the platform wall. The structure has not been restored, although in the past, according to travellers such as J. L. Stephens and D. Charnay, the building had an elaborate decorative repertoire with modelled stucco reliefs, principally in the form of masks dedicated to the sun god.


This is a residential platform in the east part of the city. The archaeological evidence uncovered to date demonstrates three construction phases. The walls are characterised by megalithic stones which during the original construction phase formed vertical walls with right-angled corners. In the subsequent construction phases, the walls adopted a slight gradient and rounded corners.


This is a two-tier structure: the lower tier consists of a platform measuring approximately 90×90 m and standing 3.80 m above ground level. The access is via a megalithic stairway on the west side. Situated on top of this large platform is a series of buildings distributed on three of its sides, forming a plaza. Over the years, these structures have been modified on several occasions and are currently undergoing restoration.

Chaltun Ha.

Situated south-east of Izamal, this is one of the fringe sites and contains a residential group with monumental architecture. The platform is more or less square-plan and surmounted by a temple. This must have comprised several lower tiers, of which only the first has survived. The building displays apron moulding and rounded, slightly inset corners. There is a single stairway on the north side of the building. It is currently undergoing restoration.

Path network.

During the Early Classic, the causeway network between Izamal and Ake and Kantunil formed a socio-political unit and may well have also incorporated the Ud-Cansahcab network based on the fact that these cities display the same architectural characteristics. On the fringes of the modern town, it is possible to see where various long paths commenced, such as the one linking Izamal to the Ake ruins 29 km further west, and the causeway leading to Kantunil, 18 km to the south. Although four causeways have been mentioned in the past, leading to each of the cardinal points, nowadays only two of them are visible. We do know that there is a fairly dense residential area on the edges of the causeway leading to Ake.


The analysis of the ceramic materials reveals a large quantity of forms and finishes such as striated, unslipped pots for domestic use, plates, dishes, bowls and vases, which are sometimes monochrome and sometimes bichrome or polychrome. These recipients were not only used in routine activities, such as cooking, storing food and as tableware – they also had ritual functions. The technological changes reflected in the ceramic materials indicate that during the Preclassic pottery had a wax finish, while in the Classic period it usually had a shiny finish.

Rafael Burgos Villanueva, Miguel Covarrubias Reyna and Luis Millet Camara

From: ‘The Maya: an architectural and landscape guide’, produced jointly by the Junta de Andulacia and the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico, 2010, pp 394-397

How to get there:

From Merida. Combis leave, when full, from Calle 50, between 63 and 65. M$35 each way. Takes just over an hour. The archaeological site is about 10/15 minutes walk from the main square. The official entrance to the site is in Calle 27.


20d 56′ 12″ N

89d 01′ 00″ W



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Tabasqueño – Campeche – Mexico



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Tabasqueño – Campeche


This site boasts one of the finest examples of an intact zoomorphic facade, that is, a doorway turned into the representation of a mythical monster. Tabasqueno is situated south of Hopelchen, in the north-eastern region of Campeche called Chenes. The name of the site dates from the last decade of the 19th century, when it was first reported and photographed by Teobert Maler. At the time, there was ranch near the ruins called El Tabasqueno, owned by a man from the state of Tabasco (hence, Tabasqueno = Tabascan). To reach the site, follow the road from Hopelchen to Dzibalchen, some 34 km, and then take the west turn off and drive on for another 2 km.

History of the explorations

Due to the remoteness of the site, the archaeological ruins remained submerged in the rainforest. In 1936 the American archaeologist Harry Pollock conducted a survey of the region and published his findings in 1970. In 1956 Ricardo Robina undertook another survey of the main buildings at the site. Agustin Pena (INAH) carried out the first consolidation works on Building 1 or the Temple-Palace in the late 1970s. During the following decade, the architects Paul Gendrop (Autonomous University of Mexico) and George Andrews (University of Oregon) produced more detailed reports of the site, studied some of the buildings and published their findings. Renee Zapata (INAH) drew up a preliminary map of the settlement and Abel Morales (Autonomous University of Campeche) embarked on a study of the astronomical orientations of some of the buildings. Conservation works were led in 1992 by Antonio Benavides C. (INAH). In 1995 Building 1 was severely damaged by the hurricanes Opalo and Roxana, resulting in the collapse of most of the upper facade. The restoration works were recommenced in 2003 under the supervision of Ramon Carrasco (INAH). In 2009 Sara Novelo O. and Antonio Benavides C. conducted consolidation works and reported the discovery of four monoliths with reliefs corresponding to the Terminal Classic (AD 800-900). These iconographic elements add to the corpus of images from the Chenes region and link the site to several Mesoamerican regions.

Timeline and site description

The architecture and ceramics at Tabasqueno indicate that the site was mainly occupied between the 7th and 10th centuries AD (Late Classic). Its main buildings compose four monumental architectural groups distributed on the tops of hills that have either been levelled or modified. Chultunes were built on some of the platforms.

North group.

The first group comprises the remains of the Temple-Palace or Building 1, the best-known construction on the site due to its imposing zoomorphic facade. A two-storey construction, it seals the south side of a plaza measuring 60 m (north-south) by 40 m (east-west). Eight rooms have been recorded on the ground floor, including two smaller ones in the stairway filling – an ingenious solution for saving material and creating more covered spaces. The generous proportions of the other six rooms suggest that they were used as elite residences. On the top floor it is still possible to see the room on the north side, the one on the south side having been lost prior to the discovery of the site. An impressive image of the powerful god Itzamna occupies the entire facade, whose monumentality is further increased by a perforated roof comb, part of which can still be seen. The giant mask, which stands over 5 m high, is flanked by stacks of long-nosed masks, which form the corners of the construction. A courtyard lies north of the Temple-Palace, bounded to the north by a construction that once contained 12 rooms, distributed in pairs and all south-facing. The west side of the courtyard had more rooms with corbel-vault ceilings, but these are on a lower level and face the west. Bounding the courtyard to the east is a large mound of rubble, the ruins of which suggest the existence of corbel-vault rooms.

Tower group.

The second group is situated some 60 m south-west of the Temple-Palace. It appears to have served astronomical purposes and at the centre stands a square-plan tower (1.5 m x 1.5 m), just over 4.5 m in height. It has simple moulding around the upper section and stone tenons at the top that may well have supported stucco figures. Several other towers similar to the one at Tabasqueno have been found in the Chenes region, most notably at Nocuchich and Chanchen, although these still have roof combs. The comparison of the three constructions led George Andrews to suggest that they were stylised representations of temple buildings with high roof combs. Meanwhile, Abel Morales of the Autonomous University of Campeche has suggested that the shadows cast by the tower may have indicated important dates in pre-Hispanic ceremonies associated with the equinoxes and solstices.

South group.

The third group is situated just south of the previous group on an artificial platform with several mounds of rubble in the northern section. Some of these stand over 4 m high and the veneer stones suggest that the buildings now lost contained rooms with corbel-vault ceilings. There are fragments of lintels and an altar, and although most of these pieces had suffered severe erosion when they were discovered their presence nevertheless may well indicate that there are more and better texts and images on the site.

West group.

The fourth group is situated approximately 80 m to the west of the first group. The rubble mounds suggest an architecture requiring a great deal of labour and attention to detail. There are low platforms and lines of pebbles around the architectural group, which indicate the former existence of dwellings made of perishable materials for inhabitants with a lower social and economic status.

Importance and relations

Judging from the architectural, epigraphic and iconographic evidence, Tabasqueno was an important city, despite the nearby location – 5 km to the north – of Pakchen, which also has impressive, formerly vaulted constructions. The monumental ruins at Hochob, 10 km to the south, are less impressive. Chunbec and Dzibiltun lie to the north-east and north-west of Tabasqueno. The future will hopefully provide us with greater knowledge about the western section of the Chenes region.

From: ‘The Maya: an architectural and landscape guide’, produced jointly by the Junta de Andulacia and the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico, 2010, pp 315-316

How to get there:

From Hopelchen. Take the Iturbide bound bus from Hopechen and get off at the approach road to the site at around km34 – about 4 km after the village of Pakchen. Then it’s a 2km walk to the site. There is also a combi that goes to Ukum which leaves Hopelchen from outside the Oxxo convenience store, on the south side of the main church.


19d 30’ N

89d 47’ W



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Santa Rosa Xtampak – Campeche – Mexico

Santa Rosa Xtampak

Santa Rosa Xtampak

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Santa Rosa Xtampak – Campeche


These ruins are situated at the top of a hill that was modified and levelled to build over a hundred masonry constructions, many with monumental proportions, that tend to form a regular pattern of plazas and quadrangular courtyards. The name of the archaeological area combines two words: Santa Rosa was a 19th-century hacienda, now lost, on whose land stood pre-Hispanic ruins or xlabpak (‘old walls’ in Yucatec Maya). The name used throughout the 19th century was Xlabpak de Santa Rosa, but in the following century it was changed to Santa Rosa Xtampak (‘in front of the wall’, ‘wall in sight’), a reference to the surviving walls of one of the main buildings. Santa Rosa Xtampak is situated some 40 km north-east of Hopelchen, which in turn lies 90 km east of Campeche City. Both parts of the route have an asphalt road.

History of the explorations

The first people to record the place were Frederick Catherwood and John Stephens, who visited it in the mid-19th century, described it and published an engraving of the Palace. At the end of that same century, Teobert Maler conducted a more detailed survey. In the 1930s and 1940s, a team from the Carnegie Institution, led by Harry Pollock, studied the ruins at Santa Rosa. In the late 1960s, Richard Stamps and Evan DeBloois (from the Brigham Young University in Utah) recorded and analysed the architecture, ceramics and chultunes at the site. In the 1980s more experts arrived: George Andrews (University of Oregon) and Paul Gendrop (Autonomous University of Mexico) to record the architecture, and William Folan and Abel Morales (Autonomous University of Campeche) to map the site. In the 1990s Nicholas Hellmuth photographed the buildings still standing; Hasso Hohmann and Erwin Heine produced a photogrammetric record of the Palace and conducted the first architectural restoration works under the supervision of Antonio Benavides C. (INAH). At the beginning of the 21st century, Renee Zapata (INAH) coordinated a programme of excavations and consolidation work at the principal constructions.

Timeline, site description and monuments

Eight stelae and three painted capstones with valuable information in the form of images and hieroglyphic inscriptions have been found at Santa Rosa Xtampak. The earliest date recorded thus far is AD 646 (Stela 5), although a preliminary analysis of the ceramics suggests that the site existed several centuries before the Common Era. The latest date, AD 948, was found on a capstone at the Palace. The ceramic materials also indicate a smaller human occupation in the Postclassic, and the city had already been totally abandoned by the time the Europeans arrived in the peninsula. The dominant architectural style is Chenes, characterised by constructions in which giant masks decorate part or the whole of the main facades. The motifs were achieved by creating mosaics with specially cut veneer stones, which were then stuccoed and painted in a variety of colours, especially red. Many constructions combine smooth panels with embedded columns on the walls or at the corners. The various entrances to the constructions are usually formed by masonry pilasters or columns. The corbel vaults usually rise directly from the vertical wall supporting them, with neither a slight recess nor soffit. Water was supplied via an intricate system of chultunes. Evan DeBloois recorded 67 such cisterns and based on their estimated maximum storage capacity the city is thought to have had a population of around 10,000.


This building comprises 42 rooms on three levels. Approximately 50 m long, 30 m wide and 30 m high, it boasts a wide stairway on the east facade as well as additional entrances on the west side and two interior staircases to facilitate circulation between the rooms. These internal communication features are rare in Maya architecture and their corbel vaults turning on oblique plains have been studied by several experts. The generous proportions of the rooms, as well as their interior features and layout, suggest that most of them were residential quarters for rulers and their courtiers. The smaller rooms situated on levels 1 and 3 may have provided storage for the accessories used by the elite: large headdresses, ceremonial costumes, incense burners, sceptres, parasols, etc.

Building with the Serpent Mouth facade.

Thus christened by Maler, the building is characterised by a typical Chenes facade covered entirely by a fantastic giant mask. There are auxiliary rooms on both sides of the mask, but the most interesting aspect is the rear section, where the Maya builders created the image of a centipede. These arthropods (chapat, in Yucatec Maya) with their poisonous claws were thought to inhabit the underworld and were associated with the gods of the underworld. Situated next to this building is the Red House composed of three rooms, although only the rear wall is still standing today. The name is a reference to the traces of paint that could still be seen in the 19th century. A path leads from the west of this plaza to another group of buildings.

House of the Stepped Frets.

This construction is situated between the Building with the Serpent Mouth Facade and the Palace. In fact, it is another elite residential building, but this time on a single level. It contains spacious rooms that once had corbel-vault ceilings and a rhythmic pattern of slender columns forming part of the walls.

The plinth was decorated with the motif from which the building takes its name: stepped frets are a frequent symbol in the Chenes and Puuc styles, but they have also been found in many Mesoamerican regions. Their meaning remains the subject of debate, having been associated with stylised rattle snakes, the cyclical movement of the stars, opposites, etc. In Central Mexico they were called ‘xicalcoliuhqui’ (xicalli = drinking bowl; coliuhqui = twisted or reclining object).

Itzamna House.

This building stands near the Palace and also adopts a north-south longitudinal axis. The central part of the construction is clearly defined by a wide east-west corridor. Both entrances are flanked by the image of the Earth Monster made out of specially cut veneer stones to create a mosaic. This mythical creature was the personification of Itzamna, the creator god, sometimes represented as an iguana, sometimes as a crocodile and occasionally as an aged anthropomorphic being. The representation on this building at Santa Rosa Xtampak is another variant of the god that decorates the uppermost wall of the Palace (top and centre of the east facade). Other similar images have been reported in the Chenes region, such as at Nohcacab (Campeche), and in the Puuc region, such as at Uxmal (north-west sub-structure of the Governor’s Palace) and at Xburrotunich (near Oxkintok). Both wings of the Itzamna House contain an equal number of rooms, which once had corbel-vault ceilings.


This is a large quadrangular courtyard on whose north side stands a building with several room. In the middle are the ruins of a stairway and three rooms on each side. The middle rooms is flanked by stacks of stylised masks and the frieze on the medial moulding displays two folds that evoke the ‘broken mouldings’ that were popular during one of the Puuc architecture phases. Several other buildings at Santa Rosa Xtampak combine Chenes and Puuc features – a common situation given the physical and temporal (c. AD 600-800) proximity of the two regions. Another series of constructions nearby (south side of the quadrangle) display a wide stairway leading to the rooms. Between the steps it is possible to see the mouth of a chultun. These underground cisterns for collecting rain water were very common at sites in the Chenes and Puuc regions, both in the monumental precincts as described here and also in the sections occupied by modest dwellings.

The name of this architectural group (cuartel is the Spanish word for ‘barracks’) does not actually have any military associations. It was thus called by the locals in the mid-19th century (when the site was reported by John Stephens). In this respect, it resembles the ‘Nunnery’ Quadrangle at Uxmal, which again has no logical basis but spread in the 16th century when the first Spaniards visited it.

South-east quadrangle.

The entrance to this architectural group is via the north-west corner, given that the east, south and west ranges are connected at their corners. All of them once had corbel-vault rooms. The north range is an independent construction and it was here that researchers found various cylinders with reliefs depicting a god with large pumpkins that extend downwards, creating a type of fabric on which he seems to walk or dance. The sculptural style corresponds to the Terminal Classic (between AD 800 and 900). In the middle of the quadrangle is a low platform. The east range displays thick columns forming entrances. These supports are crowned by mouldings with three elements, almost identical to those reported at Ek’ Balam in eastern Yucatan.

Several points indicate that this architectural group was created at different times. In the south-east section of the quadrangle, various veneer stones with unconnected reliefs have been used as part of the wall but evidently recycled from an earlier construction. Beyond the wall a passageway leads to rooms where the corbel-vault ceiling seem to be misaligned – another indication of the gradual construction of the group.

Star hill.

The South Plaza at Santa Rosa Xtampak is bounded to the north by an enormous pyramid platform, nowadays known as Star Hill, at whose base it is still possible see some of the megalithic steps that facilitated its access. These elements correspond to the earliest occupation of the settlement, like the Petenstyle stairways with giant blocks reported at other regional capitals of the peninsula, such as Edzna, Dzehkabtun, Izamal and Coba. The top of Star Hill is the highest point of the core area of Santa Rosa Xtampak. However, archaeological explorations have not yet been conducted in this part of the site and it is still covered by vegetation.

Importance and relations

Santa Rosa Xtampak is one of the most important Maya cities in north-eastern Campeche. The labour expended to build the pyramids, palaces and temples reveals a solid political structure that controlled a large region. The rulers commissioned official texts for stelae and the paintings in several rooms; they maintained long-distance trade links and played a vital role in the local economy, especially during the Late Classic (AD 600-900). The eight stelae recorded thus far contain dates ranging from AD 646 to 911.

From: ‘The Maya: an architectural and landscape guide’, produced jointly by the Junta de Andulacia and the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico, 2010, pp 311-315.

Santa Rosa Xtampak

Santa Rosa Xtampak

1. Palace; 2. Building with the Serpent Mouth Facade; 3. Red House; 4. House of the stepped Frets; 5. Itzamna House; 6. Cuartel; 7. Ball Court; 8. South-east Cuadrangle; 9. Star Hill; 10. West Group; 11. North-west Group; 12. North Group.

Getting there:

From Hopelchen. It’s not easy without your own transport. However, tuk-tuk’s will take you there, wait for two hours and then take you back to Hopelchen. You have to decide what price you’re prepared to pay. A slow tuk-tuk takes about 90 minutes each way.


19d 46’ 20” N

89d 35’ 50” W



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