Mayan History (Part 56): Izamal

Izamal is in northern Yucatán, about 40km east of Mérida (the state’s modern capital), and about 40km north-west of Chichén Itzá.  It is the biggest city of the Northern Yucatán plains.  Its urban area covers at least 53 square km.

(The orange dot is Mérida.)

Izamal and Chichén Itzá (name wouldn’t show).

In Yucatán, Izamal is (currently) known as the Yellow City, because most of its buildings are painted yellow; and the City of Hills, which are the remains of ancient temple pyramids.

Izamal was founded during the Late Formative Period [750-200 BC].  It was occupied continously until the Spanish invaded.

In terms of building construction, it was at its peak between the Protoclassic [200 BC – 200 AD] and the Late Classic [600-800 AD]. When Chichén Itzá’s power began growing in the Terminal Classic [8000-1000 AD], Izamal was partially abandoned.  However, it was still a pilgrimage site, second only to Chichén Itzá.

Izamal was the home of two important Mayan gods – Itzamna (the creator god) and Kinich Ahau (the sun-god).  One of the largest pyramids in Central America is in Izamal, and it is dedicated to Kinich Kakmo (possibly a manifestation of Kinich Ahau).  Its base is over 8,000 square metres, and it has ten levels.

South-east of this pyramid is the pyramid Itzamatul.

Two raised sacbeob link Izamal with the Ruins of Ake (29km to the west) and Kantunil (18km to the south).  These were both important centres.

In 1633, a Spanish writer wrote that Izamal was a place of pilgrimage, accessible by “four roads running out to the four cardinal points which reached to all ends of the land, Tabasco, Guatemala, Chiapas, so that today in many parts may be seen vestiges of these roads.”


Magical Town.

I don’t believe in magic. Except once in a blue moon. Maybe.

And then I visit Izamal in Yucatan. Izamal is one of Mexico’s 35 towns that has been *officially* declared “Pueblo Mágico”. The town is entirely painted yellow … colonial buildings, the market, the huge convent, everything! There are cobblestone streets, large iron lampposts, and the comforting sound of the clippity-clop of horses pulling the calesas.

Sitting under one of the arches of this magnificent courtyard, as twilight sets in, it gets harder to not believe in a little bit of magic.

Oh, well, this must have been a blue moon night. After all, how often do I find myself in a magical town?

Text and Photos by VJ Singh | Far/Back | Izamal, Yucatan, Mexico | Jan 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Have you been to any of the other ‘magical towns’ in Mexico? Send a picture?