Friday, March 2, 2012

Maya Ruins in the Yucatan at Mayapan


The remains of ancient cities Maya are abundant in the settled portion of Yucatan, which lies north of the great forest. Charnay found “the country covered with them from north to south.” Stephens states, in the Preface to his work on Yucatan, that he visited “forty-four ruined cities or places” in which such remains are still found, most of which were unknown to white men, even to those inhabiting the country; and he adds that “time and the elements are hastening them to utter destruction.”
Previous to the Spanish Conquest, the region known to us as Yucatan was called Maya. It is still called Maya by the natives among themselves, and this is the true name of the country. Why the Spaniards called it Yucatan is unknown, but the name is wholly arbitrary and without reason. It is said to have arisen from an odd mistake like that which occasioned the name given to one of the capes by Hernandez de Cordova. Being on the coast in 1517, he met some of the natives. Their cacique said to him, “Conèx cotoch,” meaning “Come to our town.” The Spaniard, supposing he had mentioned the name of the place, immediately named the projecting point of land “Cape Cotoche,” and it is called so still.
At that time the country was occupied by the people still known as Mayas. They all spoke the same language, which was one of a closely related family of tongues spoken in Guatemala, Chiapas, Western Honduras, and in some other districts of Central America and Mexico. Yucatan was then much more populous than at present. The people had more civilization, more regular industry, and more wealth. They were much more highly skilled in the arts of civilized life. They had cities and large towns; and dwelling-houses, built of timber and covered with thatch, like those common in England, were scattered over all the rural districts. Some of the cities now found in ruins were then inhabited. This peninsula had been the seat of an important feudal monarchy, which arose probably after the Toltecs overthrew the very ancient kingdom of Xibalba. It was broken up by a rebellion of the feudal lords about a hundred years previous to the arrival of the Spaniards. According to the Maya chronicles, its downfall occurred in the year 1420. Mayapan, the capital of this kingdom, was destroyed at that time, and never afterward inhabited.
Merida, the present capital of Yucatan, was built on the site of an ancient Maya city called Tihoo. It is stated in the old Spanish accounts of Merida that it was built on that site because there was in the ruins an abundance of building material. There is mention of two “mounds” which furnished a vast amount of hewn stone. Mr. Stephens noticed in some of the edifices stones with “sculptured figures, from the ruins of ancient buildings;” and he mentions that a portion of an ancient building, including an arch in the Maya style, was retained in the construction of the Franciscan convent.


We shall notice only some of the principal ruins in Yucatan, beginning with Mayapan, the ancient capital. The remains of this city are situated about ten leagues, in a southern direction, from Merida. They are spread over an extensive plain, and overgrown by trees and other vegetation. The most prominent object seen by the approaching explorer is a great mound, 60 feet high and 100 feet square at the base. It is an imposing structure, seen through the trees, and is itself overgrown like a wooded hill. Fshows one view of this. Four stairways, in a ruinous condition, 25 feet wide, lead up to an esplanade within 6 feet of the top, which is reached by a smaller stairway. The summit is a plain stone platform 15 feet square. This, of course, was a temple. Sculptured stones are scattered around the base, and within the mound subterranean chambers have been discovered.

It is probable that the principal edifices at Mayapan were not all built wholly of stone, for they have mostly disappeared. Only one remains, a circular stone building 25 feet in diameter, which stands on a pyramidal foundation 35 feet high. This is represented in Figure 35. On the southwest side of it, on a terrace projecting from the mound, was a double row of columns without capitals, 8 feet apart. There are indications that this city was old, and that the buildings had been more than once renewed. Brasseur de Bourbourg classes some of the foundations at Mayapan with the oldest seen at Palenque and Copan. This point, however, can not be determined with sufficient accuracy to remove all doubt. Mayapan may have stood upon the foundations of a very ancient city which was several times rebuilt, but the city destroyed in 1420 could not have been as old as either Palenque or Copan.