Tulum's history involves culture and secrecy. Tulum is a charming village set on the Rivera Maya’s south end, one with a history that is deeply rooted in the ancient Mayan people’s intriguing culture. More recently, the village has prospered in trades that derive from the skills developed by the area’s ancestors. To gain an understanding of Tulum and how it’s become the destination that it is today, you’ll need to look to its past.
The Classic Period
The Mayan people are members of an incredible culture that once thrived in the lower Mexico regions and what is now Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Belize. The period during which they flourished was the classic period, which was from around 300 to 900 CE. Research in Guatemala has recently uncovered that this society was notably ahead of its time as early as 300 BCE.
The Mayans constructed temples and pyramids. They created a style of writing with hieroglyphics and were knowledgeable in astrology and mathematics. This clever society produced beautiful works of art and became highly advanced traders. Not only did the Mayans create stunning art pieces, but they also cultivated vanilla, chocolate, pineapples, chili peppers and papayas. The Mayans constructed reservoirs and causeways. They even wove fabrics featuring rich colors.
An Ancient City Surrounded by Walls
The word “Tulum” is a colonial one, and it means wall. Researchers have found clues about Tulum’s original name. It appears that the city was once referred to as Zama, which means dawn in the Mayan language. When Juan de Grijalva explored Mexico, he came across the walled city during the early 1800s. The Mayans used the fortified city around 1200 to 1450 CE. It remained inhabited until the late 16th century.
Early on, Tulum was a prosperous civilization. The village was a major crossroads for trade from land and from sea. It saw trade from Honduras and even into the Yucatan. Archaeologists have made this determination from the large number of artifacts that were found in Tulum from all over Mexico. It is one of the only fortified Mayan sites in the world and one of Mexico’s best preserved coastal historical sites. Tulum's ruins have tempted travelers from all over the world to come view them in person.
About the City
The wall that surrounds Tulum is about 16 feet thick. However, some areas are as thick as 26 feet, and it is constructed from limestone. When the Mayan people lived inside the walls, the fortification provided them with protection. However, researchers are unsure as to what kind of protection was needed. There are a number of theories. One thought is that Tulum’s population, which was around 600 souls, sought protection from invaders. Another theory is that the Mayans housed nobility and priests inside the walls, leaving the peasants outside.
The most common depiction that you’ll see in Tulum is the diving, or descending, god. This deity is displayed as an inverted figure. When you visit the historical site, you’ll see the diving god on many of the ruin’s doorways. The ancient Mayans believed that the waters surrounding Tulum were the entrance to the underworld.
Tulum’s city square is centrally located with El Castillo on the left. This stunning structure was built on top of a 39-foot cliff, making it one of the Rivera Maya’s most photographed sites. While there, you’ll see the town’s residential buildings, which were constructed outside the wall.
As you tour Tulum, make time to see the Temple of the Frescoes, which is a squat structure that has undergone a number of modifications since its initial construction. During the classic period, the temple had just a vaulted shrine. Later, a larger structure was added. The add-on featured a four-column façade. As the years passed, a second story was built onto the temple.
Today, Tulum is a popular destination. It’s close to Cancun, and its ruins are well-preserved. A pathway from the village leads to a sandy beach, which is ideal for relaxing under the sun. The area’s turquoise ocean waters are perfect for swimming and picture taking. Visit Tulum to view the area’s history and gain an appreciation for the brilliance of the Mayan people.