On our first full day out and about exploring beyond the Grand Plaza of Merica, we warmed up to the task by choosing to visit the Mayan ruin of Dzibilchaltun that is only ten kilometers north of Merida. This turned out to be a good idea as we were still climbing the learning curve toward acclimating my driving skills in Merida and learning the lay of the land. Finding the Walmart turned out to be the first challenge, followed by an equal challenge of finding a place to park. Having succeeded in both, we got enough bottled water to (hopefully) last us through our trip. Yes, we have been warned about the water and hielo. Again I give thanks for Google Maps and Garmin for helping us in the navigational quirks of the city. Curious that neither application agrees with the other as to the best way to proceed. Bottom line: we always eventually got where we needed to be.

So, on to Dzibilchaltun. Drop the “D” and the pronunciation becomes rather easy if you can string the syllables. I decided at the time to content myself with “Z-bill.” Dzibilchaltun, a modern Mayan name meaning “writing on flat stones,” doesn’t have huge pyramids like Chichen Itza or Uxmal, (both places we will visit in the next days to come) but it does have its own unique features that make it a worthwhile site to visit. It was once a wealthy port and center of Mayan coastal trade with a peak population of about 200,000. 

What follows is a collection of the highlights of photos I made on our visit. On this page text relating to the photo generally follows the photo, and I have often borrowed information from various internet sources. At the end of this page will be a link to a Dzibilchaltun gallery containing a broader collection of photos from the day. Espero que disfrutes la ofrenda.

Dzibilchaltun, Maya, Mayan, Mayan culture, Yucatan, Chaac, Mayan rain god

Upon arriving to Dzibilchaltun our first visit is to the museum where we hope to become a little more familiar with the “lay of the land.” NOPE. Hire a guide for that service. One of the big discoveries was that the main deity of this region is “Chaac.” Chaac is the name of the Maya rain deity. With his lightning axe, Chaac strikes the clouds and produces thunder and rain. Unlike many rain gods from around the world, Chaac does not live in the sky. Instead, he dwells within the earth where the sacred waters of creation flow out of caves and cenotes, water-filled sinkholes. In ancient artwork, his mouth is often drawn as a gaping cave opening. However, he is also depicted with a long, curling nose. Chaac is also credited with bringing the essential maize plant to the Maya, a corn crop vital to their survival.

Dzibilchaltun, Maya, Mayan, Mayan culture, Yucatan, Temple of the Dolls, Temple of the Seven Dolls, Mayan ruins

Notice the “mask” of Chaac over the doorway of this temple, as well as on each of the corners. The deity Chaac, god of rain and corn, lived within the mountain. The mask of Chaac often appears above the doorway of a temple. The doorway is his mouth. The mouth represents a cave, entrance into the heart of the mountain. The mountain is a sacred place that provides the rain and in turn the corn that will feed the people.

Dzibilchaltun, Maya, Mayan, Mayan culture, Yucatan, Temple of the Dolls, Temple of the Seven Dolls, Mayan ruins
Temple of the Seven Dolls

Temple of the Seven Dolls of Dzibilchaltun. This structure owes its name to an offering of seven coarsely made dolls found it its interior. It is a one-story quadrangular building, with a central chamber surrounded by a corridor. The roof was tower-like and it projected itself upwards from the vaulting. It has four accesses and a window to the side of each entrance, facing east and west, thus giving it the characteristics of an astronomical observatory. It is constructed upon a pyramid pedestal, with sloping corners, with sets of steps on all four sides. The frieze of the building was decorated with eight stuccoed masks upon a base of carved stone, two intertwined serpents, and glyphs, beads, feathers and sea artifacts in modeled stucco. Towards 800 A.D. it was filled up with stones and covered by another, larger, building, whose remains still partially cover it.

Dzibilchaltun, Maya, Mayan, Mayan culture, Yucatan, Temple of the Dolls, Temple of the Seven Dolls, Mayan ruins

The Temple of the Dolls and its temple doorways were constructed in a specific and deliberate direction that confirms the Maya understanding of the solar system. During the Spring and Autumn equinox, the sun’s rays pass through the doorways of the temples. Since corn remained a major part of the Maya diet, this event had great significance to the Maya as it represented the beginning and end of harvest season honoring Yum Kax, the Maya god of corn.

A sacbe (roadway) leading from the Temple of the Seven Dolls connects to the central plaza and an unusual arched structure called the Open Chapel. The Franciscan chapel was built by the Spaniards from the blocks of Mayan temples they dismantled. During the equinox the rising sun’s rays would pass through the doors of the temple and illuminate the course of the sacbe from the Temple to the plaza.

Dzibilchaltun, Maya, Mayan, Mayan culture, Yucatan, Mayan ruins, Spanish cathedral

When the Spanish arrived in the 16th Century, they dismantled some of the buildings in this settlement and used the stone to construct their own buildings, including this 16th Century Franciscan church that now lies in ruins on the site. This is the only Mayan ruin we know of that has Spanish buildings co-existing with Mayan structures.

Dzibilchaltun, Maya, Mayan, Mayan culture, Yucatan, Mayan ruins
This pyramid did allow for folks to climb the steps and explore

The location of Dzibilchaltun is one of the longest inhabited areas in the peninsula. The area had been inhabited with settlements from 500B.C. and was inhabited up until the arrival of the Spanish in 1540.

Dzibilchaltun, Maya, Mayan, Mayan culture, Yucatan, Mayan ruins
A view from the top of the pyramid showing the plaza with the cathedral front dominating the center of the plaza

Archaeologists estimate there were as many as 200,000 inhabitants and 8,400 buildings during its history with artifacts dating back to the middle of the classic period (700 – 800 A.D.)

The Maya lived here from 300 B.C. to the time of the Spanish invasions. The Spanish continued to build in the city once they arrived and visitors can see the Franciscan chapel that lies in the middle of the Mayan ruins.

Dzibilchaltun, Maya, Mayan, Mayan culture, Yucatan, Mayan ruins, cenote, Cenote Xlakah

Cenote Xlakah is a beautiful freshwater pool located to the side of the main plaza of Dzibilchaltun. It was the city’s freshwater source and perhaps the main reason the Maya chose this location to build their settlement. Water from Cenote Xlakah would have been perfect for residential drinking water and irrigation of their fields.

A swim in the cenote was the perfect way to wrap up a very hot day of exploring the grounds. It became our regular custom to find a cenote in the neighborhood of our day’s activities. Each was a blessing and the perfect refreshment and reward.

Our next excursion will be to the city of Uxmal. Stay tuned for a link to that blog.

As usual, there are many more photos from Dzibilchaltun to share, which can be found in the Dzibilchaltun Gallery

Map of Dzibilchaltun … The blue area highlighted is where we were allowed to explore.