Spectacularly located on a cliff overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, Tulum is a Mayan settlement that flourished from around 1200 AD until the arrival of the Spanish.
The Tulum ruins are the third most visited archaeological site in Mexico after Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza. Located just 120 km south of the popular beach resort of Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula, Tulum is an easy day trip by bus.
History of Tulum Archaeological Site
By 900 AD, Maya civilization had begun its decline and the large cities to the south were abandoned. Tulum is one of the small city-states that rose to fill the void, establishing prominence in the 13th century AD as a seaport. It controlled maritime commerce along this section of the coast from Honduras to the Yucatán.
Much of what we know of Tulum at the time of the Spanish Conquest comes from the writings of Diego de Landa, the third bishop of the Yucatán.
The bishop recorded that Tulum was a small city inhabited by about 600 people who lived in platform dwellings along a street and who supervised the trade traffic. Though it was a walled city, most of the inhabitants probably lived outside the walls, leaving the interior for the residences of governors and priests and ceremonial structures.
Tulum remained inhabited about 70 years after the Conquest, when it was finally abandoned. However, local Maya continued to visit the temples to burn incense and pray until the late 20th century, when tourists visiting the site became too numerous.
What to See at Tulum Archaeological Site
The name of the site, which means "enclosure," is probably modern. Its original name is believed to have been Zama, or "Dawn," reflecting the west-east alignment of its buildings.
The Tulum site is surrounded by a 5 m (16 ft) thick wall on three sides, interrupted by five gates. The entrance to the ruins is about a 5-minute walk from the archaeological site. The city square includes artisans' stands, a bookstore, a museum, a restaurant, several large bathrooms, and a ticket booth.
The main god honored at Tulum is the "diving god," or "Descending God," depicted on several buildings as an upside-down figure above doorways.
Seen also at the Palace at Sayil and Cobá, the curious, almost comical figure is also known as the bee god. He is probably associated with the setting sun.
The largest and most prominent building at Tulum is El Castillo (The Castle). Located closest to the sea, it probably served as a landmark for sailors.
A temple as well as a fortress, El Castillo was originally covered with stucco and painted red. A wide external staircase leads up to the temple, which has three niches above the doorway. A beautiful sculpture of the descending god is in the central niche.
The Temple of the Frescoes, directly in front of the Castillo, was used as an observatory for tracking the movements of the sun. It contains interesting 13th-century frescoes, though visitors are no longer permitted to enter.
Distinctly Maya, the frescoes represent the rain god Chaac and Ixchel, the goddess of weaving, women, the moon, and medicine. Supernatural serpants are also a common motif. On the cornice of this temple is a relief of the head of the rain god. If you pause a slight distance from the building, you'll see the eyes, nose, mouth, and chin. Remains of the red-painted stucco can still be seen.
To the left of El Castillo as you face the sea is the Temple of the Descending God, with a small staircase and a carving over the door of the swooping figure that is seen throughout the site.
Just north of El Castillo is the Kukulcán Group, made of several minor structures. Especially notable is the Templo del Dios del Viento (Temple of the God of the Wind), named for its round base.
On the white-sand beachbelow El Castillo, where the Maya once came ashore, tourists swim and sunbathe. Many combine a visit to the ruins with a dip in the Caribbean.
Quick Facts on Tulum Archaeological Site
|Names:||Tulum ("walled") · Tulum Archaeological Site · Tulum Archaeological Zone · Zama ("dawn")|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||20.214945° N, 87.429521° W|
|Address:||Quintana Roo State, Mex 307|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Tulum Archaeological Site|
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Map of Tulum Archaeological Site, Mexico
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