Aerial view of a Mayan pyramid surrounded by a dense green forest canopy.

Uncover Calakmul: The Hidden Mayan Wonder

Calakmul is a monumental pre-Hispanic Mayan city that thrived during the Classic Maya period. Under the Kaan dynasty, also known as Snake Head, Calakmul was a dominant force from 551 BC to around 910 AD. The city's central feature is the Grand Plaza, encircled by six structures built during the Late Preclassic and Late Classic periods, as per the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

The city's central plaza is closed off on the southern end by Monumental Structure II, the tallest Mayan pyramid, standing at 55 meters. The Great Acropolis, a walled area within the city, was home to residential areas, including those of the elite. Notable structures within this area include the House of the Six Ajaw (Wak Ajaw Nah) and the House of the Sky Owner (Utsiaal Caan). This area also houses the city's ballgame court.

In the sixth century, the Maya civilization consisted of up to 60 settlements, many of which were at war. Calakmul, known then as the Kingdom of the Head, was often in conflict with Tikal, another major city. Despite initial diplomacy, trade ties, and family alliances, warfare was inevitable. Calakmul triumphed in 562 A.D., but Tikal counterattacked in 695 A.D., leading to a decisive victory.

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This defeat marked the beginning of Calakmul's decline, with the last stela on the site dating back to 909. This decline was not unique to Calakmul, as other Classical Maya settlements also fell during the ninth century or vanished in the centuries that followed, marking what is often referred to as the collapse of Mayan civilization.

Around the time of Calakmul's decline, other primary Mayan cities of the Lowlands, such as Copán, Tikal, and Palenque, were also reclaimed by the tropical forests. Interestingly, our understanding of this history is largely thanks to Soviet linguist Yuriv Norozov who deciphered Mayan hieroglyphs without ever visiting Mexico.

The name Calakmul translates from Mayan as "Two Adjacent Mounds" (Ca two, Lak adjacent, Mul artificial mound or pyramid), referring to the site's two major structures.

What sets Calakmul apart is the blend of its grand pyramids with the surrounding nature and wildlife. Situated within the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, the second-largest tropical forest in America after the Amazon, Calakmul is home to the most stelae (120) among Mayan cities, depicting the lives and deeds of kings, queens, princes, and captains.

In 2002, Calakmul was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been recognized as a Natural and Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2014. The site is open to visitors from Tuesday to Sunday from 6 to 11:30 am, with a general admission fee of $95 pesos.