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Visitor Dzibilchaltún: an ancient city in an ancient land


Jane Ammeson

Photo gallery: Dzibilchaltún: an ancient city in an ancient land

Formerly a large city of 40,000 people spread over 8 square miles of jungle and meadows, Dzibilchaltún was a long-lived Mayan city, a major player in the salt trade and the last survivor. Founded around 300 BC, Dzibilchaltún lasted until the arrival of the Spaniards in 1540. An architectural marvel even now, as it is in ruins, was designed with such skill that those on the roof of the “Temple of the Seven Dolls” Seven Dolls), had a 360-degree unobstructed view of the world around them. But even more impressive, for someone who still remembers with horror the eighth grade geometry class of Mr. Kaminski, engineers, mathematicians, and astronomers designed the temple with such precision that during both the spring and autumn equinoxes, the rays of the rising sun pass directly through the castle ports, with a reddish glow everywhere.

The Temple of the Seven Dolls, Dzibilchaltún © 2022 Jane Simon Ammeson
The Temple of the Seven Dolls, Dzibilchaltún © 2022 Jane Simon Ammeson

It is similar to what happened in the same days at Chichen Itza Castle, where the carefully calculated equinox alignment of the sun creates the image of the feathered snake known as Kukulkan sliding down the 91 steps of El Castillo. Not even Mr. Kaminski could have imagined that.

The Dzibilchaltun Archaeological Site

We reached the Dzibilchaltún Archaeological Zone from the wonderful city of Mérida, traveling north on the Mérida-Progreso road. Our first stop on arrival was at the Pueblo Maya Museum, the air-conditioned museum of the historic site. The latter is important even in the early hours of the day, because the heat index that includes temperature and humidity is set in “hell.” Fortunately, There’s a Museum Store After I quickly realized that my baseball cap wouldn’t be enough to protect me from the scorching sun, I bought a flexible cotton hat with a visor on all sides. not even bothering to look at myself in the mirror. I don’t want to know if it looks good to me, for once I don’t care.

Then we grabbed bottled water and looked at the exhibits. The seven dolls are here, not far from the temple where they were found. Its rudimentary forms have enlarged sexual organs. Its purpose? The explanations range from the simple ones (they were part of a ritual) to the more complex ones, properly aligned, they align with the shield that carries the constellation of Orion, allowing shamans and astronomers to predict the best days. to sow and harvest crops. Since Dzibilchaltún was an agrarian society, I see why this would be important.

Since the shield of Orion is far beyond my capacity, I move on to other exhibitions. The museum is a wonderful collection of exhibits and artifacts that reflect the history of Dzibilchaltún. Since the city survived for so long (quick, can you name more than a handful of dates beyond Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome dating back 1200 years or more?), They offer a look at the changing periods of culture. maya.

What to explore

From the museum we walked to the city itself. Dzibilchaltún is not Chichen Itza, or at least not yet. The name means “where there is writing on flat stones” and, in fact, ancient graffiti still covers walls and buildings. Although archaeologists have identified more than 8,000 structures that have yet to be excavated, there are about eight to explore. The Mayans like to play ball, so there is a ball court, of course. The 427-foot central plaza that served as the government building is one of the longest Mayan buildings ever excavated in the Mayan world. This was the place where the administrative tasks of the city were done. While I’m sure the Mayan administrators didn’t carry briefcases or talk on smartphones, a city of this size must have required layers and layers of organized bureaucracy to function effectively. That they did an excellent job is a fact, considering how long Dzibilchaltún survived.

Before Spanish

Another excavated structure housed the ruling elite, and is also the burial place of Kalom Uk’uw Chan Chae, one of the rulers of Ch’iy Chan Ti Ho, the name of this city before the Spaniards came and it was renamed Dzibilchaltún.

I’m glad I hired a guide and brought a notebook and a pen. There aren’t many marks or explanations here, and I often had to ask our guide, who was very friendly, how to spell some of the names and explain what the buildings were for.

We climbed to the top of a small pyramid (if it had a name, I lost it) which offered a magnificent view of the city including the first “uncovered” building. It was in 1940 and it was called Last Standing, because — in the whole history of the vast city — it was the only thing left. Looking around at the flat expanse of grass and foliage, it’s hard to imagine that there are still about 8,000 structures in this archeological site that remain underground, waiting for them to rise again. What Dzibilchaltún will be like when they are unearthed is hard to understand.

Sacbe a Dzibilchaltún © 2022 Jane Simon Ammeson
Sacbe in Dzibilchaltún, one of the twelve who visit the site © 2022 Jane Simon Ammeson

White roads

Twelve sacbes (or more officially ‘sacbeob’, the plural) or white roads, so named because they were covered with limestone, connect different sections of the city. Like all Mayan cities, Dzibilchaltún is fascinating. Each Mayan ruin is different and unique. We look at the chapel or the church in the open air, only five or six years old, as it was built by the Spaniards who were relatively newcomers and then we head to our last stop: the Xlacah Cenote.

cenote Xlacah

The Cenote Xlacah is a great stopping point, as it would have had it with the scorching sun, a new hat and all.

Author at Cenote Xlacah.  © 2022 Jane Simon Ammeson
Author at Cenote Xlacah. © 2022 Jane Simon Ammeson

We sat on the edge of what was the main water source of Dzibilchaltún, a placid-looking pond. But it is an illusion. We are looking at the placid surface of the Xlacah Cenote, dotted with water lilies and looking nothing more than a small pond. In fact, below is a vast underground waterway system. The measurable depths here reach 144 feet, making Xlacah one of the largest and deepest of all the hundreds of cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula. Even bigger than the Sacred Well of Chichén Itzá, and surrounded by stones and some trees, it is a cozy place. So cozy that I was one of the few who gave in and slipped into the water. Of course, she was wearing clothes, but with that heat she dried up soon enough and there was no chance of getting cold.

Hot at the top, in the hot sun oven, the levels below became cooler and cooler as it went down. I did not continue the journey for a long time because, although the waters of Xlacah are clear, our guide tells us that (like Chichen Itza 85 miles southwest) the cenote was used for religious ceremonies and all that it means. So let me not insist on what is below. Plus, that was a long time ago.

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Published or updated on: January 25, 2022 by Jane Ammeson © 2022


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