The impressive capital of the serpent’s kingdom
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Kilometer 95 of the Escárcega-Chetumal highway, in the municipality of Calakmul, Campeche.
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Among the hills, what appears to be just another hill covered in vegetation, is in fact an ancient Mayan pyramid, bathed in intense light. We are in one of the most important cities of Mayan civilization, in area as well as population, as it once home to over 50,000 inhabitants.
“Two Adjacent Pyramids” is the meaning of the name Calakmul. We are in one of the most important cities of Mayan civilization, in area as well as population, since it was once home to over 50,000 inhabitants. The city’s timeline goes back to the Preclassic period (300 B.C. to 250 A.D.), while its golden age took place in the Classic period, when the reign of Kaan allied with other states in a confederation known as “Cuchcabal”. There are records stating that some ceremonial activities were still performed in the late Postclassic period.
Calakmul became known thanks to biologist Cyrus Lonworth Lundel, who working for a bubble gum company, arrived at the site in 1931. It was not until half a century later, in 1982, that large scale excavations took place under the supervision of William Folan, of the Historical and Social Research Center of the Autonomous University of Campeche.
The site is located inside the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, which is over 723,000 hectares and is the largest of five protected natural areas of Campeche. The 6,000 structures that comprise the city’s bed, occupy about 70 square kilometers. The monumental area covers about two square kilometers and includes around a thousand structures.
According to recent studies, it appears that Calakmul was the capital of what is known as the Kingdom of the Serpent or Kingdom of Kaan. It was Tikal’s main rival, and the two kingdoms disputed dominance of the central Mayan area during the Classic period. Due to the importance of the site, UNESCO declared it a World Cultural Heritage of Humanity on July 4th 2002.
Calakmul is located in a southern region of the Petén basin, sharing the same flora, fauna, and orography, as well architectural style.
The territorial space of Calakmul is spread among five large complexes organized around the central Great Plaza, which is considered as the governing axis of its urban distribution. The most important are Structures IV and VIII in the first section, and Structures V and II in the second. The Great Acropolis, an important space in the site, consists of the North Plaza which includes the Ball Court, Structures XIV, XIII and the annex dedicated to ceremonial activities. Structures XV to XVII are located in the South Plaza, where public acts were performed.
The Great Plaza of Calakmul was the meeting point of political, religious, and social forces of the “Kingdom of the serpent head”.
In this urban distribution, the residential areas of the leading classes are quite interesting, such as the Wac Ahau Nah Residential Unit and the Utsiaal Caan Residential Unit. The number of rooms in these buildings indicate that they were occupied by large families.
One of the unique features of Calakmul are the stelae that have been found there, 117 have been discovered so far, more than in any other Mayan site, which is why this site is so important. All the stelae were built during the Classic period, the oldest one dates to 435 A.D. The Uxte ‘tuun glyph –“three stones”– appears at least 8 times in the inscriptions related to important people from the city, which is how it came to be known as Calakmul.
The funeral chamber of Structure VII is also of significant interest, the remains were found here of a young male ruler, aged between 25 and 30 and 1.62m tall, who was found surrounded by offerings of jade, ceramics and shell beads.
Calakmul is located 310 kilometers south of the city of Campeche. The highway goes for 60 kilometers to Champotón, then 90 kilometers to Escárcega, almost another 100 kilometers from the cross roads before Conhuás and 60 kilometers further until it reaches the archaeological site. Travelling from Palenque, continue east of Escárcega; coming from Chetumal, the cross roads is 50 kilometers west of Xpuhil.
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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Remember the importance of respecting the place you are visiting and keeping it clean.
How to arrive
The Calakmul archaeological zone is located to the southeast of the state of Campeche. Access to th...
The Calakmul archaeological zone is located to the southeast of the state of Campeche. Access to the zone from the city of Campeche is from highway 261 towards Escárcega. From here, take highway 186 Escárcega-Chetumal. On kilometer 95, past Conhuás, take the south turn on the 60 km. paved road that leads to the site.
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