History of Tulum

Located on the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Tulum is a tourist site with well-preserved Mayan ruins, rich forests, sandy beaches, and tropical lagoons. 

A Pre-columbian Mayan City & Trading Hub

The name Tulum means fence, trench, or wall in Yucatan Mayan – describes a walled city that Mayans built before 1500 AD. However, as Tulum faces the sunshine, it may have been originally called Zama which translates into ‘City of Dawn’.

History of Tulum

The Maya

The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization that dominated present-day southeastern Mexico, western portions of El Salvador and Honduras, and all of Guatemala and Belize. 

During the Preclassic period, Mayans established complex societies within this region and cultivated staple crops like chili peppers, maize, and beans. They started building cities around 750 BC, and by 500 BC Mayan cities featured colossal architecture. 

Tulum was one of the last cities that Mayans constructed and inhabited. Though the Maya settled here in the 6th century, the city did not become prominent until the late 13th century. 

Back in the day, Tulum served as a trading port for the Maya because of its access to both sea and land trade routes. 

After the Spanish Conquest of Yucatán

The site was first spotted by Grijalva’s Spanish expedition in 1518. However, the Maya continued to live here for about 70 years after the Spanish started colonizing Mexico. 

Unlike other Mayan cities, Tulum survived the destruction that took place when the Spanish occupied Mexico. The walls surrounding the ceremonial complex of Tulum were constructed to protect against invasions. 

El Castillo

El Castillo, also called the Temple of Kukulcan, is a temple pyramid that Mayans built sometime between the 8th and 12th centuries. The structure exhibits architectural influences from other Mesoamerican civilizations, especially Toltecs. 

Archeologists believe that like other Mesoamerican temples, the Maya constructed the Castillo in several phases. The last phase of construction was between 900 – 1000 AD. However, the substructure may have been built several centuries earlier for the same purpose. 

Temple of the Frescoes

The Temple of the Frescoes served as an observatory for the Maya to track solar movements. The facade of the structure features niched statuettes of the Venus deity. 

According to the estimates of archeologists, the historic temple was built in the early 11th century, while most paintings on the interior walls have existed since the 16th century. 

The structure is named after its earliest painting which dates to the 11th-12th century. The depiction of Aztec deities in the paintings suggests contact with other Mesoamerican cultures. 

Temple of the God Descending

The Temple of the God Descending was erected on top of another temple which served as its base. There is a single room inside the temple that contains a stucco sculpture depicting the Maya diving god with wings.

Present-day Tulum

As the only intact Mayan coastal town, Tulum attracts an average of two million tourists yearly. The ancient structures built by the Maya make up the Tulum National Park, one of the major attractions of the Yucatan Peninsula. The fortified city sits on a cliff 40 feet above the beach and affords beautiful views of the Caribbean.

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