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Ancient Maya City of Calakmul, Campeche

Ancient Maya City of Calakmul, Campeche

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.

Ancienne cité maya de Calakmul, Campeche

Calakmul, site maya important, dans la profondeur de la forêt tropicale des Tierras Bajas au sud du Mexique, a joué un rôle clé dans l'histoire de la région pendant plus de douze siècles. Ses structures imposantes et sa disposition globale caractéristique sont admirablement conservées et offrent une image parlante de la vie dans une ancienne capitale maya.

مدينة المايا القديمة كالاكمول في كامبيش

يُعتبر موقع المايا كالاكمول الذي يقع في عمق الغابة الاستوائية تييراس باياسفي جنوب المكسيك، مهمًا جدًا فقد لعب دورًا حاسمًا في تاريخ المنطقة لأكثر من 12 قرنًا. وتتمّ المحافظة بشكلٍ لافتٍ على بنيته البارزة وتقسيمه الإجمالي المُميَّز اللَّذيْن يقدّمان صورةً واضحةً عن الحياة في عاصمة المايا القديمة.  

source: UNESCO/ERI

坎佩切卡拉科姆鲁古老的玛雅城

卡拉科姆鲁玛雅古城坐落在墨西哥南部的铁拉斯巴扎斯热带森林深处,它在这个地区超过1200多年的历史中一直扮演着关键角色。其雄伟的建筑及独特的整体布局保存得非常完好,给世人展现了一幅生动的古玛雅首都的生活画面。

source: UNESCO/ERI

Древний город майя Калакмуль, штат Кампече

Калакмуль, значительный город индейцев майя, окружен тропическим лесом Тьеррас-Бахас на юге Мексики. Он играл ключевую роль в истории этого региона в течение более 12 столетий. Его внушительные сооружения и характерная общая планировка удивительно хорошо сохранились, давая наглядную картину жизни в древней столице майя.

source: UNESCO/ERI

Antigua ciudad maya de Calakmul (Campeche)

Situado en lo más hondo de la selva tropical de las Tierras Bajas del sur de México, Calakmul es un importante sitio maya que desempeñó un papel de primer plano en la historia de la región durante más de doce siglos. Sus imponentes estructuras y su trazado global característico se hallan en un estado de conservación admirable y ofrecen una vívida imagen de lo que era la vida en una antigua capital maya.

source: UNESCO/ERI

カンペチェ州、カラクムールの古代マヤ都市

source: NFUAJ

Oude Maya stad Calakmul, Campeche

Calakmul is een oude Maya stad die diep in het tropisch regenwoud van de Tierras Bajas in het zuiden van Mexico ligt. De oude Maya stad heeft meer dan twaalf eeuwen een belangrijke rol gespeeld in de geschiedenis van de regio. De imposante structuren en het karakteristieke ontwerp van Calakmul zijn opmerkelijk goed bewaard gebleven. Ze geven een goed beeld van het leven in een oude Maya hoofdstad. De overblijfselen tonen een belangrijke fase in het ontstaan van menselijke nederzettingen en de ontwikkeling van de architectuur. Ze weerspiegelen de politieke en spirituele manier van leven in de Maya steden van de regio Tierras Bajas.

Source: unesco.nl

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Calakmul © Community Tours Sian Ka'an
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

Calakmul is an important archaeological Maya site,located within the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve on the Mexican Yucatan peninsula. The ecological reserve was created in 1989 and is the largest of its kind in southern Mexico. In 1993 the reserve was recognized under the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme.

The apogee of cultural activity at Calakmul is considered to have been in the Late Classic Period (542–695 A.D.). After this point, the centre of Maya power moved gradually further north, into Yucatan, to Palenque, Uxmal, and finally Chichen Itza. By around 900 A.D. Calakmul was no longer a city with any influence. It was found to have been completely abandoned in the 1530s, when the Spanish conqueror 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 other once powerful cities of the region.

The portion of this very extensive ancient settlement that has so far been explored consists of three large groups of structures. To the west there is a large group of platforms with buildings, grouped around open spaces, covering approximately450 x 350 m. A similar, slightly smaller, group lies to the east. Between these two groups the central zone is located, covering a roughly square area measuring 400 x 400 m. In this zone very large open public spaces and the dominant Structure II are the main elements.

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 twelve centuries. At the heart of Structure II the earliest building known from Calakmul was found, which is covered by successive reconstructions. Within this building (known as Structure II sub C) is a barrel-vaulted chamber covering over 22m2. Analysis and interpretation of the complex iconography of its frieze decorated with large stucco masks shows that this structure antedates stone structures from Uaxactún and El Mirador (both in Guatemala), which were hitherto believed to be the oldest in the region.

The large city of Calakmul represents outstanding testimony of the exchange of influences over more than twelve centuries, beginning in the 4th century B.C.: in the fields of political organization and cultural development the site emitted and received influences from a vast area of the Maya region. This exchange was intensified by Calakmul's relationships with other sites, and especially its rivalry with Tikal.

Calakmul is the site which, up to the present, contains the largest number of stelae found in situ, and an impressive series of tombs, some of which are considered to be royal. A rich variety of ornaments, ritual ceramic vessels, and a large number of jade masks have also been excavated at the site. This assemblage of elements provides unique evidence of a rich, vanished civilization.

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.

Integrity

The Ancient Maya City of Calakmul, Campeche has a protected area of 3000 ha, situated within the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve that covers 723,185 ha.  This situation allows for the protection of all physical aspects of the cultural property that convey the Outstanding Universal Value, including also the site’s surrounding landscape with which it makes up an indivisible unit in a harmonious relationship.

Until the Calakmul Special Project began in 1993, there had been no significant human interventions at the site of Calakmul for some five hundred years.

This is an important factor because, unlike other major prehispanic sites in Mexico, such as Chichen Itza or Teotihuacan, where work has been in progress intermittently for more than a century, Calakmul is being explored, conserved, and restored according to a homogeneous and integrated policy.

At the time of inscription, ICOMOS noted that there was a considerable loss of visual quality, as well as authenticity, caused by the retention of trees in the plazas and other open spaces between the structures. It was remarked, furthermore, that it seemed both dangerous to the stability of the archaeological structures and inappropriate for fully grown trees to remain rooted into the fabric of the buildings.

Authenticity

Because the site was not rediscovered until 1931 and there were few interventions of any kind until 1993, the level of authenticity is very high. This is reinforced by the meticulous observance of contemporary conservation and restoration principles and techniques now being implemented.

Protection and management requirements

The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve was established by Presidential Decree in May 1989. Since 1993 it has been a MAB reserve under the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme. The archaeological site is protected under the 1972 Federal Law on Monuments and Archaeological, Artistic and Historical Zones.

Ownership of the land within the reserve is 48.4%federal and 49.6% communal. Only 2% is in private hands.The archaeological site is federally owned, under the provisions of the 1972 law. Management of the reserve is the responsibility of the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), supported by the National Institute of Ecology (INE) with regard to wildlife, and in collaboration with the Campeche State Government, the Municipality of Calakmul, and the Ministry of Social Development (SEDESOL).

The National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH), which is an agency of the National Council for Culture and the Arts (CONACULTA) and the Ministry of Public Education (SEP), is responsible for the management of the archaeological site, working through its Campeche Regional Office.

There is close and constructive collaboration between the INAH Campeche Regional Centre and the administration of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. The INAH site management team also has close and cordial relationships with the small indigenous communities within the reserve, many of whose inhabitants work on conservation and restoration projects on the site and who are being trained in the relevant techniques.

The management team is headed by a senior archaeologist from the INAH Campeche Regional Office. He is supported by a number of professional staff (archaeologists, architects, etc.) and a permanent on-site staff of fourteen custodians, maintenance personnel, etc. In addition, workers are recruited on short-term contracts from the small settlements within the reserve on specific conservation and restoration projects.

Long Description

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
Historical Description

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