Monday, May 21, 2018

Yucatan: Ek’ Balam

View of Ek’ Balam from the top of The Acropolis
Continuing on from the first portion of our recent journey into the Yucatan (see Yucatan: Chichen Itza), the second phase of the journey consisted of lunch and swim at one of the cenotes between Chichen Itza and Ek’ Balam.
Cenote
Three generations of cenote swimmers
The last stop of the day was at the less visited archaeological site of Ek Balam or The Black Jaguar.  Excavations of Ek Balam did not begin until 1998.  Before 1998, it had been swallowed by jungle and mostly hidden under earthen mounds.  When the private tour was booked, I asked for Ek’ Balam to be included in the itinerary.  The booking agent in the hotel said, "sure, we can include Ek’ Balam but not many go there."  When we arrived at Ek’ Balam and began our short walk to the ruins, the guide asked a similar question.  "How did you find out about this place?"  Not many tours know about this place and few visitors request a visit.  I replied that I had read about the place and wanted to see a large, Mayan complex in a state of restoration and without throngs of tourists.  He agreed and said Ek’ Balam was one of his favorites.  He seemed eager to share his knowledge of the complex.  

Walking the short distance between the ticketing office and the entrance to the ruins few visitors were seen.  Very few cars in the parking lot either.  That was a good sign that we might have the site mostly to ourselves.  First glimpse of the Ek’ Balam compound as we exited the jungle path was the main the gate into the site.
Main Gate
The entrance gate or guardhouse is unique in that all four sides are open.  Entering through the gate, turning right, and a few steps down a steep, stone ramp, the compound opens up into a courtyard flanked by buildings.  Some of the structures featured stairways to the top; another featured round towers.
Oval Palace
Oval Palace
Temple with stairway to top
As we walked through the complex, many of the structures still showed their native state.  That is crumbling and fallen stonework, collapsed roofs, and vegetation growing on and among the buildings.  Often I felt as if I stepped back in time and accompanied Stephens and Catherwood as they explored the Yucatan in the mid-1840s.  Atmospheric, for sure.
Twin towers in ruins reminiscent of a Catherwood illustration
Once the young grand kids caught site of the main temple or Acropolis, off they shot to climb the massive structure.  While kids raced off and parents chased, I continued my stroll through the compound with the guide as he explained the complex and its history.
The Acropolis
On a more leisurely approach to the towering Acropolis, we walked by a stone pyramid with stairway leading to the top.  Climbing the stairs and looking, it became apparent that this pyramid was meant as a viewing area for the ball court.  Opposite this wall of the ball court was a mirror court wall and viewing pyramid.
Grandstand with ball court in background
When compared with the gigantic ball court at Chichen Itza, notice that the Ek Balam court is shaped differently despite the small scale.
Ek Balam ball court
After walking through the compound, the guide and I finally joined up with the rest of our group at The Acropolis.  By time we reached the temple, most had already climbed to the top and were looking down upon us.  
Stairs leading up Acropolis
The Acropolis structure is tall at about 100 feet.  This height even surpasses the height of the temple at Chichen Itza.  While no one is allowed to climb Chichen Itza, climbing The Acropolis at Ek Balam has no restrictions.

The Acropolis, itself, contains many carvings and stucco reliefs that are works of art and masterpieces in craftsmanship. The stela aside the massive stairway depicts the head of a serpent with hieroglyphs proclaiming that the stair was built and owned by the ruler of Ek Balam. 
Serpent stela
Midway up and on either side of the stairway are a number of rooms all ornately carved with stucco reliefs.  The focal of the entrance on the left of the stairway is a massive set of carved teeth.
Gate of the Serpent Mouth
Intricate carvings including some wall paintings
Wall painting detail
The Gate of the Serpent Mouth is believed to guard the entrance to the underworld.  A grave was found during excavation of these rooms.  Archaeologists believe the grave was that of the ruler Ukit Can Le'k Tok who reined 770AD-801AD.  The intricate detailing in the stucco reliefs is astounding.  Such fine works of art buried beneath earthen mounds for about 800 years.
Gate of the Serpent Mouth
The visits to Chichen Itza and Ek Balam were well worth a long day out in the Yucatan.  Although my family came along willingly, I hope they enjoyed the journey as much as I!
Jon at the Gate to the Underworld
Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat?

20 comments:

  1. Lovely photos, always nice to visit an empty site!
    Best Iain

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very nice to have the ruins nearly to ourselves.

      Delete
  2. Beautiful photos lucky man!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Beautiful place if you enjoy scrambling over Mayan ruins.

      Delete
  3. Fascinating. The shot from the base of the stairs really gives a sense of the monumental size of the structure. The History Channel should be so informative!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ed! Very pleased that you enjoyed the travelogue of Ek' Balam! Ek' Balam makes a terrific day trip from Cancun.

      Delete
  4. Replies
    1. Thank you, Simon! If you enjoy exploring Mayan ruins, Ek Balam is a good one and not that well known.

      Delete
  5. That is spectacular Jonathan! Was the water in the Cenote deep?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the water was quite deep. A life guard was paddling around in a kayak to ensure our safety.

      Delete
  6. Amazing stuff. Is there a plan to add some 28mm Aztecs or Maya to the collection? It would be colorful.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great pictures, Jon. Definitely reminds me of our visit to Kohunlich about 15 years ago - semi restored, few people, and no restrictions on climbing the stairs etc. Some of the sculptures still had traces of the red paint used on them, and had similar sheds erected over them to reduce photo bleaching of same. Flash photography was prohibited for those places only, for the same reason. I am sure that you'rte aware that a recent lidar scan indicated that there are literally hundreds more sites buried under the jungle of the Yucatan and south.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Peter, we ought to meet in the Yucatan, Belize, or Guatemala for an adventure to explore these ruins! We could make our own discoveries. Kohunich is now on my list. How did you choose Kohunich as a destination? Was this on cruise excursion? I have photos from my trips into Belize and Guatemala from many years ago. I should revisit those too.

      Delete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...