An adventurer's playground of rocky massifs and steep, scalable ravines; Campeche State yields far more than a backdrop for extreme vacation activities. Reluctant to divulge her colonial secrets, it is only within the past two decades the world has been privy to explore the secrets of Campeche – including an ancient Mayan site arguably more beautiful than El Tajin.
Beset within the flourishing Tierras Bajas forest, just 35 km from the border of Guatemala, the ancient city of Calakmul bears a striking resemblance to the set for Akator; a mystical Mayan settlement featured in the blockbuster “Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”. Calakmul is of course, far larger. Rediscovered by American botanist Cyrus Lundell in 1931, the ancient city was surprisingly slow to draw excitement among archaeologists of the time. More recent studies have indicated the second of the “Two Adjacent Pyramids” exceeds previous height estimations; at 148 feet, the steep, wholly intact structure is considered the highest in Mexico.
Sheltered beneath great forest canopies and dense swathes of foliage, Calakmul encompasses an area in excess of 20 square kilometers. Over 6,500 freestanding structures litter the site, including a significant proportion of modest stone adobes along the outer perimeter – once the settlement for over 50,000 people. Calakmul represents the epicentral seat of a land once known as “Kingdom of the Snake”; a fact further amplified by the plethora of ornate snake glyphs, carved into the many fascias of tombs and upright stelas. Four tombs, housed within the Great Pyramid share a unique synchronicity, in that all feature the uniform serpent “Emblem Glyph of Calakmul”. Surrounded by a series of great palaces and ball courts, the Central Plaza was reason alone for Calakmul's honor by UNESCO in 2002. Now a World Heritage Site, parts of the complex have since become greatly protected, however one can still wander the echoey passageways of Calakmul's great triadic pyramid.
Sentry-like amid the gargantuan ruins, the Stelae of Calakmul are a defining asset. They appear to resemble gravestones, although stand considerably taller than any form of memorial we would use today. Several can be found afoot the tombs of great kings, including King Uneh Chan – one of Calakmul's fiercest rulers. He is largely faulted for the aggressive reputation that befell Calakmul, following the attack at Palenque in 599 B.C. Many a legacy lives on at Calakmul, told through the spirited scenes carved upon the Stelae. From battles and beheadings, to Royal processions and matrimonial scenes, these unique carvings convey a history that no museum could ever do justice.