Tulum is a beautiful village on the south end of the Rivera Maya that enjoys a deep rooted history in the important culture of the ancient Mayan people. In recent years, Tulum has flourished in trades that stem directly from the skills utilized by the ancestors of the area. To appreciate the history and making of Tulum, one must understand the history of the Mayan people.
The Mayan people are part of an amazing culture that had flourished in the lower regions of Mexico and what is now Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and El Salvador, during what is known as the classic period from about 300-900 CE. Recent discoveries in Guatemala show that this society was extremely well advanced as early as 300 BCE, prominently 600 years before the classic period began. These highly developed societies built pyramids and temples, developed a form of writing through hieroglyphics, and were highly skilled in mathematics and astrology. For reasons unknown, around 900 CE there was a major decline in the Mayan people in the area. They later began to flourish once again in the southern tip of Mexico, now known as the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Mayan people descend from earlier civilizations such as the nomadic hunter -gathers that came to this area as far back as 5000 BCE. It is possible that the Mayan descended from civilizations such as the Olmecs, thought to be the very first true civilization to develop in this area around 1500 BCE. Both the highly developed written language of the Maya as well as the complex calendar that they developed were both based on the Olmecs earlier version.
As the Mayan people began to flourish so did their many skills. In addition to being regarded as the inventors of many Meso-American cultures such as the first calendar and the most highly developed hieroglyphically written language in the northern hemisphere, their mathematical achievements and amazing accuracy with advanced astronomy has earned this culture an important place in the development of the western hemisphere. Highly advanced in art and trade they continued to share the bounty of their knowledge until the late 16th century after the Spanish Conquest.
The religion of the Mayan people is based on a structure of various gods. The Mayan believed that these gods had direct influence on events that happen each day, month and year and would do rituals and sacrifices to earn favor with the gods. Although not as much as the Aztecs, blood sacrifice was a part of the Mayan culture but did not always include loss of life. In many occasions a personal offering of shed blood, flowers, art and food were offered to the Gods.
Tulum, meaning wall in Mayan, was named such when it was discovered and first explored in the early 1800s by Juan de Grijalva's expedition to the area. This fortified Mayan city had been utilized during the Post classic period around 1200-1450 CE. And the site remained occupied until the late 16th century when it was finally abandoned after the arrival of the Spanish.
This ancient walled city was, in its time, a thriving civilization. Originally thought to be called Zama, Mayan for dawn, Tulum was a major crossroads of trade from both land and sea managing trade from Honduras and into the Yucatan. This is evident by the large amount of artifacts from all over Mexico that have been uncovered at this site. Tulum is one of the only fortified Mayan sites and is one of the best preserved coastal sites in all of Mexico. The ruins of Tulum have brought travelers from all over the world into her walls and shown them the splendor of her city.
Tulum's wall for which it is named is 5 meters (about 16 feet) thick and as many as 8 meter (about 26 feet) in some areas and provided the perfect protection for the Mayan people that lived here.
Tulums most common depiction is that of the diving god or descending god. This god is depicted as an upside down figure and is seen among many doorways on the ruins in Tulum. The waters around Tulum, mostly cenotes, were believed by the ancient Mayan to be the entrance to the underworld.
The City Square sits in the center of the city and is bordered by El Castillo to the west. This breathtaking structure sits atop a 12 meter (about 39 foot) cliff and is one of the most photographed sites in the Rivera Maya.