cocomation

Mayan History (Part 59): Mayapan

Mayapan is in central Northern Yucatán, about 48km north-east of Uxmal.

The site was chosen to be a military stronghold: it is barren rock, and wouldn’t have been chosen for its agricultural possibilities. Mayapan covers 4.2 square kilometres, and has over 4,000 structures. Most of them are residential buildings, and are within the city walls.

A stone wall runs around the perimeter.  It is 3-3.5m thick, up to 3.5m high, and 9.1km long.  It has twelve gates, seven of which have vaulted entrances.

The ceremonial centre is closely-packed with buildings: temples, colonnaded halls, shrines, sanctuaries, oratories and platforms. However, the buildings are not well-constructed.  Nearly all the vaulted roofs have collapsed, while many of Chichén Itzá’s have not.  The best masonry is found in the nobility’s residences, which had been taken from the site preceding Mayapan.

The city is poorly laid-out, too, with no streets, although lanes wind around the residences and walls.  The houses are often arranged in small “patio groups” around a central small courtyard.

The main temple is the Temple of Kukulcan (Quetzalcoatl), to the east of the Cenote Ch'en Mul.  It has four staircases and nine terraces, and is quite similar to Chichén Itzá’s Temple of Kukulcan.

Temple of Kukulcan.

The total population was probably around 15-17,000.  The houses around the ceremonial centre are larger and better-quality than the ones further out.  The densest area of settlement was in the south-west, which had the most cenotes.  (There were perhaps as many as 40 cenotes in the residential areas.)

Mayapan dominated the Yucatán cities for several centuries.  Sources disagree on exactly how it was established.  Possibly after a civil war against the Toltecs of Chichén Itzá, various lords met together to restore a central government to the Yucatán region, and the chief of the Cocom family was chosen as ruler.

Important members of royal families had to live permanently in Mayapan as hostages.  Eventually, the Xiu family (who claimed to be of the Uxmal lineage) started a rebellion against them, and it was successful.  Mayapan was sacked in 1441, and all of the Cocom family were killed, except one who was away on trade business.  Following this, the larger cities in the region declined, and Yucatán devolved into warring city-states.

Mayapan, from the summit of the Temple of Kukulcan.

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