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Travel guidebooks for the ultra curious, Approach Guides reveal a destination’s essence by exploring

a compelling aspect of its cultural heritage: art, architecture, history, food, or wine.

Maya religious centers are one of Mexico’s cultural treasures, the vestige of a great civilization that prospered for 2,000 years (peaking from 600-800 CE) in Mesoamerica and created some of the most impressive art and architecture in the New World. This Approach Guide serves as an ideal resource for travelers seeking a deeper understanding of this Maya cultural legacy through a comprehensive exploration of five ancient cities.

PY W What’s in this guidebook O IE Background. We start off by providing some critical background information — focusing on • cosmology and the role of the dynastic ruler — that makes sense of the forms and symbols of EV the unique Maya aesthetic.

Tours that go deeper on the most important sites. Following our tradition of being the • most valuable resource for culture-focused travelers, we then turn our attention to Mexico’s premier Maya cities: Bonampak, Chichen Itza, Palenque, Tulum and Yaxchilan. For each city, PR we start by introducing the distinctive features of its art and architecture, isolating key features and concepts that you will see again and again as you make your way through the site.

The tours walk you through the highlights, aided by high-resolution images and a discussion C that ties it all together.

Tours of Maya-connected civilizations. Finally, to put these Maya sites into context, this • guide profiles the capital cities of three Mexican civilizations that were closely connected to the Maya over its long history: La Venta (Olmec civilization), Teotihuacan (Teotihuacan civilization) and Tula (Toltec civilization). Detailed tours of these locations reveal the back-and-forth exchange between the Maya and its neighbors to the north.

Advice for getting the best cultural experience. To help you plan your visit, this guide book offers logistical advice and provides links to online resources. Plus, we provide our personal tips for getting the most from your experience while on location.

Information the way you like it. As with all of our guides, this book is optimized for intui tive, quick navigation; information is organized into bullet points to make absorption easy;

and images are mocked up with text that explains important features.

Contact us anytime Our readers are our greatest inspiration. Email us at founders@approachguides.com to let us know about your experience with Approach Guides — many of our recent updates have been inspired by customers like you. We personally respond to every email.

We hope you enjoy what we believe is a totally unique guide to Mexico’s premier Maya cities.

Have a great trip!

David and Jennifer Raezer Founders, Approach Guides www.approachguides.com Continuing Travel in the Americas

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Guatemala & Honduras If you plan on visiting Guatemala and Honduras, download our guidebook to their greatest Maya sites: Tikal and Copán. As with our Mexico guidebook, we offer insightful coverage — spanning history, art, architecture — available nowhere else.

Start reading: Maya Ruins of Tikal and Copán

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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without permission in writing from the publisher (excluding Creative Commons images). Further, this book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only and may not be resold or given away to other people.

Copyright, licensing and attribution information can be found in the metadata for all images and illustrations.

Approach Guides and the Approach Guides logo are trademarks of Approach Guides LLC. Other marks are the property of their respective owners.

Although every effort was made to ensure that the information was as accurate as possible, we accept no responsibility

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Introduction The Maya in Mexico Know Before You Go Maya Cosmology The Cult of the Ruler Sculpture as Political Tool Maya Stelae: Style and Evolution Maya Cosmological Symbols


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1. El Castillo

2. Temple of the Warriors

3. Venus Platform

4. Sacred Cenote

5. Tzompantli and Platform of Eagles and Jaguars

6. Main Ball Court

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Teotihuacan (Teotihuacan Civilization) Teotihuacan Architecture Teotihuacan Art Key Deities in Teotihuacan Art Layout

1. Temple of Quetzalcoatl

2. Pyramid of the Sun

3. Pyramid of the Moon

4. Tepantitla and Tetitla Tula (Toltec Civilization) Toltec Architecture

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Video Overview


Mexico Reading List Where to Stay, Eat and Shop Packing List Continuing Travel in the Americas


Join Our Email List!

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Introduction The Maya in Mexico Map of Featured Sites Timeline Maya History In Summary Maya Cosmology The Cult of the Ruler Maya Carved Relief Tradition Cosmological Symbols

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Temple of Quetzalcoatl Pyramid of the Sun Pyramid of the Moon Paintings: Tepantitla and Tetitla Tula (Toltec Civilization) Toltec Architecture

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The Maya civilization thrived for approximately 2,000 years in Mesoamerica, an area that encompasses present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras. Peaking from 600-800 CE (the Late Classic period), it created art and architecture that, even in its ruined state, inspires contemplation and wonder.

This Approach Guide focuses on the premier Maya sites in Mexico: Bonampak, Chichen Itza, Palenque, Tulum, and Yaxchilan.

Bonampak. Located in the state of Chiapas in southwest Mexico, the small site of Bonam pak has dynamic stelae reliefs and the premier Classic period murals in the Maya world.

Chichen Itza. Located on in the Yucatán Peninsula, Chichen Itza is an exceptional Postclas sic Maya site, its monuments revealing a Central Mexican Toltec artistic and architectural aesthetic.

Palenque. A mid-sized site in Chiapas, Palenque offers a unique combination of high qual ity architecture, excellent carved stone panels (in situ), and breathtaking location.

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Author Tip: We encourage you to review a collection of background information on the Maya — a map showing the locations of prominent Maya sites, a timeline, a brief summary of Maya history, and a video by one of the foremost experts on the Maya — in the final section of this Approach Guide, entitled “Maya: The Big Picture.” PR C Exchange with Mexican Civilizations

Over its long history, it had a dynamic exchange with three neighboring Mexican civilizations:

Olmec, Teoitihuacan, and Toltec. Whenever possible, we point out the remaining evidence of such an exchange in each site’s art and architecture. And following our profiles of the five Maya sites, we continue by profiling the capital cities of these three great Mexican civilizations (La Venta, Teotihuacan, and Tula, respectively). It is our hope that you will jump back and forth between the Maya and Mexican sections of this guidebook as you explore connections.

Author Tip: We highly recommend adding La Venta, Teotihuacan, and Tula to your itinerary, especially Teotihuacan (just outside of Mexico City). Knowledge of these connected civilizations will prove invaluable in your understanding of the Maya. While we profile them in this guidebook, nothing beats onsite experience.

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Before beginning our tours of the Maya cities themselves, the following sections offer a few critical insights into the functioning of Maya civilization that will prove quite valuable in making sense of each site’s art and architecture.

Cosmology. Cosmology was the foundation for the civilization’s art and architecture, func tioning as the source material for their underlying narratives, forms, and symbols. We provide the basics on the Maya worldview to help you appreciate the symbolic associations that monuments were designed to communicate.

Cult of the ruler. The Classic period ruler was the primary human figure in the Maya cos mological universe; as the link with the world beyond the living, he was responsible for the prosperity of his people. We explain his fundamental role.

Sculpture as political tool. The ruler used art and architecture to reinforce the impor tance of his cosmological role, thereby expanding his power and prestige. To illustrate this point, we reveal how this objective sparked the change to a new form of sculptural expression.


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Author Tip: Like Yaxchilan, Bonampak is logistically challenging to reach. However, it offers the premier paintings in the Maya world and especially dynamic carved reliefs. It’s a highlight of any trip into Maya territories.

Summary Location Bonampak is located near the Usumacinta River in the state of Chiapas, near the border with Guatemala. Situated 150 kilometers southeast of Palenque, it can be visited, along with Yaxchilan (25 kilometers away), on a single (albeit long) daytrip from Palenque.

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• Bonampak is a small site, toured in probably 2 hours.

• Its murals represent the apex of Classic period Maya painting; there are even some impressive stelae and stone lintels.

• Logistics are a bit challenging: visitors have to take a 12 kilometer taxi ride from the village of San Javiér to the entrance and ticket center (no private vehicles are allowed). You can walk or take a bus from there to the site itself.

Time period Bonampak is a Late Classic period site. While its dynastic line runs from 400-808, the most impressive features of the site were executed under Chaan Muan II (ruled 776-792).

Key Historical Interactions PY W In key historical interactions, we put Bonampak into context, listing the city-states with which it had meaningful exchanges, the nature of these exchanges, and in some cases, their manifest conseO IE quences.

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ongoing battles between Yaxchilan and Bonampak in the 5th-6th centuries. By 600, Bonampak had become a vassal of Yaxchilan and remained so until the collapse of both states in 808.

Piedras Negras and Calakmul. The two most powerful opposing city-states in the Clas PR sic period were Calakmul and Tikal; each had a vast network of allies ready to do its bidding. Piedras Negras was Calakmul’s chief ally within geographic proximity of Bonampak; it was through Piedras Negras’ encouragement that Bonampak came to fall under Calakmul’s C sphere of influence.

Palenque. In 603, Bonampak successfully raided the nearby city-state of Palenque, an • ally of Tikal. This was an opportunistic strike, as Palenque had already been weakened by a crushing defeat that occurred at the hands of Calakmul in 599.

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Author Tip: This jewel box temple is a highlight our tour of Mexico’s Maya cities. The exceptional Classic period paintings are still vibrant and unrivaled in the Maya world. Further, the lintels represent the apex of the active style.

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Paintings Bonampak is known for its world-class frescoes that adorn the walls and ceiling of the three-room Temple of the Murals (Templo de las Pinturas), located midway up the principal staircase on the acropolis. They are the best examples of paintings known to have survived from the Maya Classic period.

• The paintings date from 790-792, the last years of Chaan Muan II’s reign. Bonampak was abandoned soon after their completion.

• They are executed in buon fresco. Using this technique, the artist applies paint to wet plaster; when the combination dries and hardens, the paint becomes one with the plaster.

The temple consists of three rectangular rooms, each with three registers of paint ings on all four walls (Fig. 20).

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Fig. 21. Procession of musicians, Room 1, illustrating the continuous flow from one wall to another.

Chaan Muan II’s final acts are illustrated in the paintings of this building. They are depicted in continuous narrative beginning in Room 1, continuing in Room 2, and concluding in Room 3.

Room 1 Room 1 depicts three scenes, chronologically the first events of those rendered in the temple’s three

rooms. We review them in order consistent with the narrative:

On the upper register (in orange ochre), straight ahead and to your right and • left sides upon entering: a child wrapped in white cloth, Chaan Muan II’s son, is presented to the assembled nobility as heir to the royal throne; this event likely occurred in 790. The royal family is assembled in the throne room on the right wall and the nobility on the walls straight ahead and to your left. The child is held by a woman on the far right side of the wall (on a painted platform) directly ahead of you as you enter.

On the upper register behind you upon entering: three high ranking men are dress — Pages Missing —

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Author Tip: Chichen Itza is the premier Terminal Classic and Early Postclassic Maya site. Its Toltec-influenced monuments are in good condition and highly evocative of ceremonial life in this once-great city.

Summary Location Chichen Itza lies approximately two hours by car from most locations along the Maya Riviera (Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum).

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Fig. 26. Chichen Itza. View in Google Maps.

Visiting the site

• Chichen Itza is an exceptional site, as all of its structures are in a high state of preservation.

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