Calakmul, an important Maya site set deep in the tropical forest of the Tierras Bajas of southern Mexico, played a key role in the history of this region for more than twelve centuries. Its imposing structures and its characteristic overall layout are remarkably well preserved and give a vivid picture of life in an ancient Maya capital.
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Justification for Inscription
Criterion i The many commemorative stelae at Calakmul are outstanding examples of Maya art, which throw much light on the political and spiritual development of the city. Criterion ii With a single site Calakmul displays an exceptionally well preserved series of monuments and open spaces representative of Maya architectural, artistic, and urban development over a period of twelve centuries. Criterion iii The political and spiritual way of life of the Maya cities of the Tierras Bajas region is admirably demonstrated by the impressive remains of Calakmul. Criterion iv Calakmul is an outstanding example of a significant phase in human settlement and the development of architecture..
The political and spiritual way of the Maya cities of the Tierras Bajas region is admirably demonstrated by the impressive remains of Calakmul. This site contains more stelae in situ , a series of tombs, some of them royal, with a rich variety of ornaments, ritual ceramic vessels, and a large number of jade masks. All these elements provide unique evidence of their kind about a rich vanished civilization. Within a single site, Calakmul displays an exceptionally well-preserved series of monuments and open spaces representative of Maya architectural, artistic and urban development over 12 centuries. It also testifies to the exchange of influences over more than 12 centuries, beginning in the 4th century BCE, in the fields of political organization and cultural development over a vast area of the Mayan region.
The archaeological site is located within the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, which was created in 1989 and is the largest in Mexico. The portion of what is recognized to have been a very extensive ancient settlement that has so far been explored consists of three large groups of structures. On the west there is a large group of platforms with buildings on them around open spaces. A similar, slightly smaller, group lies to the east. In between these is the central zone, covering a roughly square area, in which very large public open spaces and the dominant Structure II are the main elements. Between the central and eastern groups but seemingly distinct from them is the large pyramidal Structure I. This is slightly smaller than Structure II, but having been built on a natural eminence it is more or less the same height. The central zone owes its configuration to two overlapping public open spaces. One of these is defined by the structures of the eastern western groups and Structure II. Within this open space, and also facing Structure II, is a group of buildings that form an open space known as the Plaza Grande. This configuration of buildings disposed geometrically around a double open space can be linked to the layouts at other Mayan sites such as Tikal and, in particular, Uaxactún. It should be stressed that the structures in the central zone date from all the periods of occupation of the site, indicating continuity of occupation over some 12 centuries. At the heart of Structure II is to be found the earliest building known from Calakmul, now covered by successive reconstructions of this dominant building, within which is a barrel-vaulted chamber.
By virtue of the size of its main structures and its extent, this town is comparable with other, better-known sites of the Mayan culture, such as Palenque, Uxmal and Chichen Itza in Mexico and Tikal or Copán in Central America. However, it contains structures that are older than those to be found in these sites. In Calakmul the layout of certain groups of buildings and the general organization of the urban centre present characteristics that also apply to the other sites in the Petén region such as Uaxactún and Tikal.
Analysis and interpretation of the complex iconography of its frieze decorated with large stucco masks show that this structure antedates stone structures from Uaxactún and El Mirador, which were hitherto believed to be the oldest in the region. The buildings of the central zone, with ceremonial and ritual functions, are flanked by the eastern and western groups containing buildings of palace type. Beyond them, to all the cardinal points, there are four groups, each with distinct characteristics. Calakmul is especially noteworthy for the large number (120 to date) of stelae that have been found on the site. Not only are these of immense importance in establishing the history of the ancient city and in throwing light on the ancient Maya culture, they are also key elements in its layout. The 'structure-open space' element is common to all Maya sites, but at Calakmul this is further enriched with stelae carefully sited in regular lines or groups in front of the stairways and main facades of the pyramidal structures. The decorative sculpture and reliefs are artistically of a high order. Two exceptional massive circular carved stones are especially noteworthy for their quality and rarity in the Mayan context. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
The settlement of the heavily forested Tierras Bajas region, now divided between Mexico and Guatemala, by the Maya dates to the end of the Middle Pre-Classic Period (900-300 BCE). It was formerly considered to have been an essentially egalitarian agricultural society, based on small settlements spread throughout the region, but recent discoveries have shown that large monumental ceremonial structures were being built, indicating a more advanced, complex form of society, capable of creating such enormous structures.
Recent excavations in Structure II at Calakmul have shown that between 400 and 200 BCE a monument some 12m high was built here. This challenged the previously held view that Nakbé (Guatemala) had been the main centre in the latter part of the Middle Pre-Classic Period. By the time of the transition to the Late Pre-Classic Period Calakmul had become one of the two dominant cities in the region, the heartland of the Maya world, the other being Tikal. Excavations have shown that they flourished, in a state of almost continual warfare with one another, until around 900 CE. Much light has been thrown on the turbulent history of this period by the many stelae found on the two sites, and in particular Calakmul.
The apogee of Calakmul is considered to have been in the Late Classic Period (542-695 CE). The centre of Maya power then moved gradually further north, into Yucatán, to Palenque, Uxmal, and finally Chichén Itzá, and by around 900 CE Calakmul was no longer a city with any influence. It was found to have been completely abandoned in the 1530s, when Alonso de Ávila carried out an exploratory mission in this part of the peninsula, which at that time was occupied only by people known as cehaches, who were probably the descendants of the inhabitants of Calakmul and the other once powerful cities of the region.
It was not until 1931 that the existence of the site was recorded by Cyrus L Lundell during a botanical expedition. It was he who gave it its present name, made up of ca (two), lak (near), and mul (mountain = pyramid) - ie "two neighbouring pyramids." Source: Advisory Body Evaluation