El Castillo
El Castillo

Tulum means fence trench or wall, and is the name given to the site in recent times because of the wall surrounding it, although its ancient name was possibly Zama~, a corruption of Zamal (morning), associated with the dawn. This is an ideal name for the site, as sunrise in Tulum is a superb sight. The first mention of the city was made by Juan Dîaz, who was on Juan de Grijalva's expedition that reached the coast of the Yucatan peninsula in 1518. He wrote "We followed the coast day and night; on the following day ... we sighted a city or town so large that Seville would not have appeared bigger or better ... a very tall tower was to be seen there ..." which no doubt refers to Tulum and the building known as the Castle, standing on the edge of the cliff.

Tikal City

Religion was very important, as demonstrated by the numerous altars, temples and shrines in Tulum. Remains of mural paintings and other works show military and religious subjects, especially the Descending God, propitiatory ceremonies for rain and good harvests, and the worship of other deities associated with the fertility of the Earth. Tulum appears to have been a center of the worship of the Descending God, a deity who was venerated in other cities both on the coast and in the interior of the Yucatan peninsula. Some experts associate this god with the planet Venus, the setting sun, rain or lightning, but his true identity is not clear, since other scholars maintain that he symbolizes the go of bee-keeping the Bee-God, called Ah Mucen Cab in Mayan.

Frescoes Temple Frescoes Temple

During the Maya uprising of the War of Castes, which began in 1847 and lasted until 1901, Tulum was occupied several times by rebels because of the protection this wall afforded. In 1871 it became one of the sanctuaries of the "Speaking Cross" cult, led by Indian woman Maris Uicab, who was known as the patron saint or queen of Tulum. (Guide of Tulum, History , Art and Monuments. 1995)

The Maya were obsessed with the idea of time. The fact that they employed the concept of zero in their number system helped them make great strides in this realm. They knew that the earth year was a little more than 365 days, and a complicated, incredibly accurate calender predicted the solstices of the year. The Maya applied the same zeal to studying other worlds and were quite accurate in determining the average year on Venus, a planet that was millions of miles from earth! They named periods of time, (a twenty year span was known as the katun), placed great significance on these cycles by building temples and stelae marking the conclusions of these Mayan "katuns".

return to Ancient Mayan

Mayan City of Tulum

Destination 360