Tulum beach vacations and the Tulum ruins built by the Mayans on the ocean, is one of the primary reasons people pick Tulum for their vacation. As the only Mayan ruin built on the ocean, the history of this archeological site is fascinating. If you have been researching Tulum, the city, you will have seen this photo in the promotion of the town.
But do you know the history of the building that is featured in most of these promotional photos? There are 13 structures in this walled city and the most photographed is the Castillo, the large building featured in this photo. But what is ‘El Castillo’ and what is its significance other than being the largest and tallest building on the site of the Tulum ruins?
El Castillo in the Tulum Ruins – History, significance and the story
El Castillo translated into English means ‘The Castle’. Unlike other Mayan Ruins, the Castillo played a double function in this small Southern Yucatan Mayan city. It was a fortress and a temple, a dual function that other Castillos in Coba, Chitzen Itza and Ek Ballam did not have. It stands 7.5m/25 feet tall and was built on other buildings that the Mayans erected. At the base of the Castillo is a shrine, which is in exact alignment with the break in the reef where boats still today use as the exit and entry point to the ocean.
With the fall of the Mayans in 900 AD, the Tulum city, now the Tulum ruins, was the central hub of the area and mainstay for Mayans living in the area. It was the spiritual hub, the trade destination for incoming goods that were dispersed to the other inland Mayan cities and was a coast guard for any incoming threats to the area. Though smaller than the other Mayan sites in the Yucatan, its significance and role in the Mayan culture is by no means smaller.
Center of the walled Mayan city – Tulum
Due to the limited size of this Mayan city, the Castillo was the town center where inhabitants worked, ceremonies where held and goods were received and then dispersed. The Castillo is built on the highest point, is the tallest building and faces the rising sun. It also has an unobstructed view of the night sky.
This lithograph was created by one the founders of the Tulum ruins Catherwood in 1847. It shows what the Castillo would have looked like in the height of the Mayan civilization in Tulum. Notice the different classes of workers, their dress and the vegetation that was in the city. The Castillo is the center of the lithograph and shows it as it once was, covered in stucco, at the root of all industry and the center of the city of Tulum.
Want more information on the discovery of the Tulum Ruins and how this Mayan ruin shaped the development of the Mayan Riviera? Find the original unabridged version of Incidents of Travel in Yucatan written by John Lloyd Stephens and includes illustrations by Frank Catherwood, an artist that traveled with Stephens. There are many abridged versions that do not include the artwork of Catherwood and have only taken the essence of Stephens original writings. The original work had the praise of Edgar Allen Poe, saying ‘Perhaps the most interesting book about travel ever published.’