A Journey Back In Time
The ancient city of Ek Balam (“Black
Jaguar”), like Chichén Itzá, is about two
hours from Soliman bay. It is inland from Tulum, about 20 minutes north
of Valladolid. Because it is a recent excavation, facilities are sparse,
but not missing. There is one restroom. You’ll want to bring along
your own food and water.
The site is older than Chichén Itzá and much more recently
discovered. Though ruins were known to exist in the area for some time,
it wasn’t until the late 1980’s that archeologists
began to realize that something important might be buried in the jungle
foliage. Excavation began in earnest in 1994 and is still going on.
You enter the city walking on the remnants of a Mayan raised roadway or
sacbes, through a double wall, and on to the entry arch. Though
reconstructed, the arch looks as old as the rest of Ek Balam and it welcomes
you inside. (See photo below.)
that Ek Balam was a very important political, commercial and religious
center for centuries. Current archaeological evidence shows that the site
was inhabited from perhaps 100 B.C. until the time of the Spanish conquest.
It was probably at its height as a city and cultural center from around
700 A.D. To 1200 A.D.
Though the major structures such as the pyramid are not as well preserved
as some in the region, the state of preservation seen in its plaster friezes
is astonishing. Nowhere else in the Yucatan will you find carvings and
statues in such wonderful condition.
As archaeologists uncover these marvelous pieces of art, they are taking
additional steps to safeguard them. One will notice newly constructed
roofs of palm leaves covering many examples of these friezes,
a serious effort to protect these wonderful works of art from the elements.
These palm roofs make the pyramid look like an ancient apartment house,
but they are there for good reason and the efforts of the archaeologists
to not only find but also preserve these amazing artifacts should not
Mayans often built structures in layers, adding more and
more to their various buildings and monuments over time. Archaeologists
have found such layers of construction on the giant pyramid, known as
La Torre, or sometimes called “The Acropolis”.
They have found the same sort of construction history for the “Oval
Palace”, or La Redonda (The Round One). Other structures, such as
Las Gameles (The Twins) were probably built as originally planned; the
grove between them aligns perfectly with the sun on the morning of the
summer equinox. Such things were important to the Mayans.
can climb to the top of the Oval Palace and get a beautiful view of the
entire site. If you are more ambitious, you can climb to the top of the
pyramid and get an even better view.
Though not fully intact, and hence not at its full height, this massive
structure was at one time the largest in the Yucatan. Its marvelous base,
carved intricately with Mayan hieroglyphs, is about 500 feet wide, and
nearly 200 feet deep. The most marvelous frieze on the site is located
two-thirds of the way up the side of the pyramid. Known as “The
Mask” or “The Jaguar”, this nearly 20 foot high face
features a huge gaping mouth lineed all around with sculptured teeth that
were clearly made to be fierce then and are equally as fierce today. Almost
intact, this is one of the friezes that look almost as good today as it
did a thousand years ago.
There is much
to see in Ek Balam. You can quickly walk through the site in a few hours,
or much longer. Either way, you’ll be glad you made the trip.
The site is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. each day.
Admission is around $3.00, USD. Be sure to tip the restroom attendants
for keeping the facilities clean.
This article was written
contact us for additional information sources on Ek Balam.