Tulum Archaeological Site

Tulum Archaeological Site


Description of Tulum Archaeological Site

Location: Yucatan Peninsula


Tulum, or formerly called Zamá, was a walled city of the Mayan culture located in the State of Quintana Roo, in southeastern Mexico, on the coast of the Caribbean Sea. It is currently a great tourist attraction of the Riviera Maya and next to it is the Moderna town of the same name, Tulum. The Mayan city is located within the so-called Tulum National Park.


Map of Tulum Archaeological Site


Archaeological zone of Tulum

The archaeological site of Tulum is located on the eastern coast of the state of Quintana Roo, in the region known as the Riviera Maya.

The city received in ancient times the Mayan name of Zama (which means sunrise in Mayan) and the current one, Tulum (which means wall in Mayan), which seems to have been used to refer to the city when it was already in ruins. Due to the numerous records in murals and other works found in the buildings of the city, it is considered that Tulum was an important cult center for the so-called "descending god".

Although inscriptions dating back to 564 have been found, most of the buildings that are appreciated today were built in the postclassic period of the Mayan civilization, between the years 1200 and 1450. The city was still inhabited in the early years of the Spanish colony but by the end of the sixteenth century there were no more residents.

In the Mayan culture, an importance was given to the planning of the city according to cosmology, and that is why the construction of the city of Tulum was based on the concept of the “four corners” that refers to the cardinal points and that in turn arises from the ancient cosmic pattern of five points. The city as a quadrangle represented an ordered, rational world, made for gods and men alike. Protective balames or guardians of the people were installed at each corner or entrance.

In 1842, John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, who had previously been to Copán, Palenque and Uxmal, decided to visit Tulum and Catherwood could not pass up the opportunity to draw these ruins. The combination of Mayan and central Mexican architecture is evident. One of the most important buildings is called The Castle and it is built facing the sea, it is probably one of the oldest buildings in the city. It is an impressive construction that has elements that refer to the Sun and Venus, in addition to the Castle sits on a cliff, and at the bottom there is a cave; this clearly represents the vertical concept of the universe, where there are higher planes, and the cave represents the underworld.

The Temple of the Descending God has also received a lot of attention from experts and researchers, with a curious asymmetry in its facade, which faces the west but which has a stucco character arranged in the niche above the lintel in a descending position that captures the vision immediately. Miller presents the idea that the paintings that can be found inside represent ideas of birth and renewal, in turn relating it to Venus in its morning aspect.

Another extraordinary building is the Temple of the Frescoes, the internal walls are decorated with paintings in predominantly gray and blue tones; these frescoes impressed Catherwood and Stephens who confirmed again their opinion regarding the Mayan greatness.

Until the early twentieth century, some neighboring villages used to visit the site to bring offerings, but the continuous flow of tourists put the practice into disuse. Some frescoes found inside the buildings suggest some Mixtec influences in the community.

Archaeologist Pilar Luna, a specialist in marine archaeology from Mexico, explains that the importance of the building known as "El Castillo" for Mayan navigators was because it allowed them to avoid the dangers of the second longest coral reef in the world. The Mayan navigators to arrive at Tulum, were driven by the open sea parallel to the coral reef, when they visualized "The Castle", which fulfilled the function of a lighthouse, since it indicated the moment to take the channel that divided the reef, this was achieved by the help of two windows of the facade of this building, which being illuminated by natural light or torches at night, indicated the precise moment to make the boats turn, thus avoiding colliding with the reef safeguarding the goods that they were transporting.

Tulum was one of the most significant Mayan cities of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, because it was an essential stopover for the Mayan trade routes, in their exploitation of the maritime riches of the coasts of present-day Quintana Roo. At its best, Tulum emerged as the nexus between maritime and terrestrial trade dynamics in the Mayan world. In fact, objects from various regions of the Yucatan Peninsula and Central America have been found in Tulum, which reflects the importance that this Mayan city had for the trade of Ancient Mexico.


The first reproductions of his murals

The first decals of the frescoes were made in 1916 by Thomas Gann, when he spent four days at the site as a member of an expedition of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Sylvanus G. Morley, the project director, included three of the figures drawn by Thomas Gann from the west facade of Structure 5 (Temple of the Descending God) in a report describing the work he did.


National park

The archaeological zone of Tulum is located within the homonymous national park. This was declared by the Decree published on April 23 and 30 in the Official Gazette of the Federation.

The Tulum National Park constitutes the only terrestrial Protected Natural Area in the Cancun-Tulum corridor, an area increasingly pressured by tourism that has been developing increasingly in the last decade and that is gradually reducing the natural coastal areas by converting them into accommodation and lodging sites. Therefore, the great importance of maintaining one of the few natural strongholds in the region, which is also located around the archaeological zone known as the “walled” area of Tulum, one of the most beautiful and with the greatest tourist influx in the country.

The Tulum National Park has an extension of 664 hectares, 32 areas and 13 centiareas.5 It is distributed from the north of the town of Tulum through the coastal area called Casa Cenote. Although it is a small conservation area, it houses a great variety of flora and fauna characteristic of the region.

The area is distributed mainly along the coastal area from the north of the town of Tulum, and to the area called Casa Cenote, bordering to the east with the federal maritime terrestrial zone and to the west with the Federal Highway 307.

The Decree on the creation of the Tulum National Park states that it is necessary to establish national parks for public use in those areas that, due to their location, beauty, scientific, educational or recreational value, merit it, and must carry out the necessary works for their conservation and conditioning for the benefit of the community. In the same way, within that area, there are several freshwater cenotes, linked to the traditions, ceremonies and legends of the Mayan people, elements that together with the scenic beauty and vestiges of cultures previous to ours, constitute the necessary elements to protect the national park.

Of humid warm climate and with altitudes lower than 100 meters due to its coastal character. In the middle jungle, it is worth highlighting the presence of plant species such as the chaca (Bursera simaruba), the chicozapote (Manilkara zapota), the palo tinto or campeche (Haematoxylum campechianum), the chechen (Metopium brownei) and the chit palm (Thrinax radiata). The ecosystem is of mangrove type, mainly composed of red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle). The fauna is dominated by specimens of spoon ducks (Anas clypeata), fulva swallows (Hirundo fulva), pectoral sandpipers or striped sandpipers (Calidris melanotos), spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi), common snipe (Gallinago gallinago), howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra), anteaters (Tamandua mexicana), armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus), squirrels ( Sciurus yucatanensis) or specimens of gophers (Orthogeomys hispidus).



According to the National Biodiversity Information System of the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), more than 545 species of plants and animals live in Tulum National Park, of which 55 are within some risk category of the Official Mexican Standard NOM-059 and 17 are exotic.


Popular culture

In the movie Black Panther: Wakanda Forever it is mentioned that Namor was born in 1571 in the Mayan kingdom of Zama, on the Yucatan Peninsula.


Great Temple Castle

 Great Temple Castle (Tulum Archaeological Site)

Temple of the Frescoes

 Temple of the Frescoes (Tulum Archaeological Site)