Izapa

Home of the tree of life, which represents the cosmovision of the Mayan World

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The site is located 13 kilometers from Tapachula, 4 kilometers from Tuxtla Chico, and 7 kilometers from the border with Guatemala, in Talismán.

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In the region of Soconusco, Chiapas, among warm natural landscapes that start in the lowland, multiply in the Sierra Madre, and culminate in the coastal plain, there is a jewel hidden amongst the coffee plantations and the cocoa fields. A jewel that is not nearly as valued as it should be: the archaeological site of Izapa.

Founded around the year 1,500 B.C., Izapa was the most important ceremonial, political, and religious center of the Pacific coast for almost a thousand years. Its importance was due to commercial factors, as well as for being the region’s religious center. Its position favored migrations and the trade of jade, cocoa, and obsidian, however its ruins do not house spectacular structures or famous paintings like other sites, as it lost a great deal of importance during the Mayan Classic period.

Izapa, originally inhabited by Mize-zoque people, began its development around 600 B.C. and reached its peak as a regional center toward the upper Preclassic period, due mostly to the climactic characteristics of where it is located, with its fertile soil and high humidity, which allowed the creation of an intensive agricultural system and surplus stock.

The location and planning of its ceremonial center is full ofastronomical references, to the point that many archaeologists believe that Izapa had a key role in the construction of Mesoamerican calendars and the Mayan calendar in particular. Its orientation, on a slightly askew angle from the geographical north and its alignment with the Tacaná volcano, have led to the conclusion that its best structures and pyramids for astronomical observation match the dusk of the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere.

The ancient city of Izapa was explored by Matthew Stirling in 1935; by Philip Drucker, from the Smithsonian Institution in 1947 and 1948; and was inspected by Eulalia Guzmán in 1935 and 1944.

Various stelae narrate some of the myths collected in the Popol Vuh.

The archaeological zone is quite wide, it has an area of two kilometers and is comprised of groups of mounds.

Today, it is only possible to visit Group F, north of the highway to Talismán, it is the most restored area, which groups together most of the stelae and stone sculptures. Groups A and B, to the south, are accessible through dirt roads, but the area is covered in vegetation. Most of the stelae are in Groups A and B, which correspond to the site’s Preclassic occupation.

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Izapa had more than 160 buildings including pyramids and platforms of up to 22 meters high. Today, the largest pyramid is mound 60 which is approximately 105 square meters and 22 meters tall, and is located in the site’s Group H.

Another important monument is Mound 30 A, located in group B, which is a 10 meter high staggered pyramid that was also used for religious and ritualistic purposes.

It probably had two ball courts in two open areas, but whether these areas were used for this game or to some other end is still in debate.

There are also 252 stone monuments, most of them are sculpted and 89 are stelae carved with religious scenes.

In fact, Izapa’s peculiarity lies in its sculptures and the origins of its style. The Izapan culture was influenced by the Olmeca from the gulf’s coast, but with specific characteristics that spread throughout other regions of the coast of Chiapas and Guatemala. Izapan sculpture, religious in its origins, registers mythical and historical events, as well as religious and cosmogonic concepts.

The site has numerous monuments. The simplest of them are stone spheres placed on columns, which were possibly solar representations. Then there are the free-standing sculptures, such as the monolith representing an enormous jaguar, with its open jaws, devouring a man.

There are about 89 precious examples of stelae, 38 of which have carved surfaces. Stela 1 describes a water deity with a prominent jaw and long lips characteristic of Chaak, the rain god in classic Mayan art, capturing fish.

Stelae 2 illustrates a scene in the Mayan legend of the origin of Popol Vuh, according to which the twin heroes beat a false macaw god, causing it to lose its bejeweled eyes, its beak, and its teeth. Discouraged by its loss, the macaw god died. According to the Popol Vuh, Zipacna, the son of Macaw Seven, killed four hundred family members of the twin heroes, which led them to deceive the great crocodile to crawl under the Meauan Mountains and turn into stone.

The most famous stela is No. 5, or of the Tree of Life, which displays a supreme entity constructing the Universe and its relationship with the earth, fire, and water. This stela is on display at the Archaeological Museum of Soconusco, located at Tapachula.

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Wear comfortable footwear, preferably something sporty, pants, preferably cotton, a long-sleeve shirt, and a bandana or hat. Remember to bring mosquito repellent, as you’ll be in the jungle.

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How to arrive

From the state capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez, to Tapachula, there is a travel time of 40 minutes by pla...

From the state capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez, to Tapachula, there is a travel time of 40 minutes by plane. By land, the trip consists of 420 km, which is an average travel time of 5 and a half hours. Once in Tapachula, the closest location to Izapa, the distance is 13 km and travel time is 10 minutes.
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