What is Tulum known for? Well, anyone who has ever heard of this place knows what it is. resorta fancier alternative to Cancun (80 miles north), and over the past few decades an increasingly popular (and crowded) destination for foodies, influencers and tourists in general.
But the ancient Maya lived in Tulum long before it got cold. Actually, skeletal remains found in nearby cenotes and underwater cave systems indicate that the area was inhabited by indigenous peoples 10,000 or more years ago.
Read more: Hard life and mysterious death
Where is Tulum located?
More recently, about 1500 years ago, it was here, on the Caribbean coast of the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula, that the Maya built a city unlike any other. They named him Zama, which means sunrise or dawn – suitable for a city facing east across a sparkling sea. Is located in protected area just a few miles from the modern city center, the archaeological site at Tulum, once neglected and abandoned, has now become one of the premier Mayan sites in Mexico. Here’s what we know about ancient Tulum.
Although there may be larger Mayan settlements or places with more impressive structures – Chichen Itzafor example, or nearby koba – Nevertheless, Tulum was an important city and was considered the last major settlement built by the Maya.
Its location was chosen not only to enjoy the sunrise or the Caribbean breeze. Tulum was a port, the only known city built by the Maya on the coast. Historians and archaeologists note that Tulum was a significant trade center on land and sea, dealing with valuable resources such as turquoise and jade obsidianas well as textiles, ceramics and other goods.
Ancient Tulum was built as a fortress
(Source: Mariordo/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons)
For its size and location, Tulum was extremely well fortified. It is estimated that the construction of the city began sometime in the 6th century AD, during the so-called classical period for Maya. Even today, it is obvious to the most casual visitor that the careful and strategic construction of Tulum took a long time.
While one side faced the sea and was therefore protected by steep cliffs, the rest of the city was bounded by stone walls that were particularly thick—up to 26 feet—and in some places reached 16 feet high. If you traded in luxury goods, it made sense to protect them, but many archaeologists have concluded that the walls were not so much a preventive measure against theft and raids as a barrier between social classes. Apparently, only the ruling and religious elite lived within the city walls, while the commoners lived outside.
Tulum was abandoned by the 16th century
Temple of Frescoes (Source: jlazouphoto/Shutterstock)
Tulum reached its peak around the 13th and 14th centuries. Visitors at that time would see busy city with buildings painted in vibrant shades of red, blue and green. One of the most attractive site structures, fresco temple, still contains evidence of carved deities and frescoes depicting scenes from Mayan culture and mythology. If social media influencers existed at the time, they would have had a day where they took selfies.
The port city continued to prosper for another century or two. Then, in 1518a completely different influential person arrived in the Yucatan: conquistadors. And they weren’t tourists – they were here to stay.
Read more: Why did the Maya leave their once bustling cities?
In a short time, disease, conflict, and other devastations of colonization helped destroy the Mayan civilization as we (and they) knew it. The thick walls of Tulum ultimately offered little in the way of defence; the fortified port became a ghost town by the end of the 16th century.
Ruins of Tulum: how they were discovered
An 1844 lithograph of Tulum (Source: Frederick Catherwood, Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)
In the mid-19th century, English explorer Frederick Catherwood and American diplomat John Lloyd Stevens traveled the Yucatan, writing an influential book that introduced much of the Western world to Maya culture. In 1841, they first saw the ruins of ancient Zama. Impressed by the thick barriers surrounding the settlement, they named the place Tulum, which means wall or hedge in the Mayan language.
Yet the ancient city remained off the beaten track for the next 150 years. However, the rise of Cancun in the 1970s and the general development of what would become known as Riviera Maya region for the next 20 years, almost guaranteeing that Tulum will once again regain prominence in the region.
What is Tulum known for?
In the middle of the 20th century, the permanent population of Tulum was estimated at several hundred people. At the turn of the millennium, the population had risen to over 12,000 people, a figure that had almost quadrupled in the last 20 years. But that’s still a tiny number compared to the more than 2 million visitors a year that visit the area today.
Archaeological site of Tulum
Although many of these tourists may limit themselves to the resort area, the ruins of Tulum are still one of the most popular archaeological sites in Mexico. Fortunately, the government has taken some steps to keep the ruins from being eaten to death by many modern “explorers”. Where once visitors could scramble between, over and even inside some of the still-standing ruins, access to the most vulnerable areas is limited today.
But this ancient port city still deserves a visit, whether to admire the architecture and art of a bygone civilization, or to enjoy the sunrise and the Caribbean breeze of a unique settlement whose charm and mystery have once again made it a crossroads. trade.
Read more: How the ancient Maya practiced sustainable agriculture