Tulum: The Mayan Walled Beauty


The ancient Mayan civilization still holds much history, despite decades of archaeological study. Among the mysteries is what led to the sudden demise of what had been a grand and expansive civilization. Experts agree that Mayan ruins are yet to be discovered.

Tulum, however, is an open book. Unlike other Mayan cities shrouded by tropical growth, Tulum was the only settlement built on the coast. It was also developed in the last years of the civilization.

Settled as a fishing settlement as early as 300 BC, the earliest archeological evidence of human occupation in the area dates to 564 AD.  This comes from an early classic stelae inscription and places Tulum within the Classic Period of Maya history.  However, its peak would come much later, (1200 – 1521 AD), during the Late Post-Classic Period with the arrival of the Spanish when the city was still in use.

A Spanish expedition first spotted the city of Tulum on May 7, 1518 and it became the site of the first meeting between the two cultures.

Captain Juan de Grijalva and his crew sailed past Tulum and were astonished at the walled city with brightly painted temples of red, white and blue.  It was described as “a village so large that Seville would not have appeared larger or better.”  There would have been many buildings painted in vermillion red, light blue and bright green. Only a few traces of these colors remain today.

The word Tulum means “wall, trench or fence” in the Mayan language and the ancient name of the city was Zama, meaning “dawn” or “sunrise,” which is appropriate given its location.

Built on a bluff facing the rising sun, this ruin site is the only Maya settlement located on the beaches of the Caribbean.  It was also one of the very few cities in the Maya world that was ever walled or fortified.  These walls are located on three sides of the settlement with the ocean protecting the eastern borders.  They are 3 to 5 meters (16ft) in height, 8 m (26ft) thick and 400 m (1,300ft) long with the western wall parallel to the sea.  Archaeologists believe that rather than being used for defensive purposes, the walls acted as a class barrier to separate the ruling elite from their subjects.  It is estimated Tulum had a population of 1,000 to 1,600 inhabitants.

By the end of the 16th century, Tulum was abandoned as European diseases and epidemics decimated the population.  Archaeologists have evidence that the population was killed off by the Spaniards when they introduced Old World diseases into the area as a way to destroy the native population.

Documentation of this demise can be found in the writings of Friar Diego de Landa’s Observations on the Yucatan Peninsula.  Tulum would survive 70 years after the Spanish Conquest of Mexico.  Local Maya continued to visit the temples to burn incense and pray until the late 20th century.

Today, Tulum is one of the most frequently visited Maya ruins in the Yucatán Peninsula, receiving thousands of visitors every day and is a favorite destination among celebrities.

Enjoy this, many other wonderful Mexican cities aboard Victory Cruise Lines. For more information please visit https://www.victorycruiselines.com/yucatan-mexico-cruise/