Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Although Chichen Itza is one of the Yucatan's most famous ancient sites, Ek Balam, located just 30 minutes away, predates Chichen Itza by 600 years and displays striking structures still being excavated. Ek Balam translates to "Black Jaguar" in Mayan and the imposing size of the buildings demonstrate how significant the city was to the Maya from about 500-900 AD. Despite this, Ek Balam is one of the best kept secrets in the Yucatan Peninsula. There are very few crowds and I was able to stroll leisurely throughout the site.
Restoration has been ongoing at Ek Balam since 1997 and the uncovered buildings include a ball court, a tomb, a palace and a 96- feet-tall Acropolis pyramid. The structures are scattered closely so that you can explore the ruins easily if you like to climb. I recommend sturdy shoes, I saw a lot of lost flip flops on some of the ruins.
This is the towering flight of stairs that lead to the top of the Acropolis. They were so narrow and steep that I could barely fit my long feet on them. So I opted not to go all the way up.
Instead, I took a detour to the newly uncovered royal tomb. They discovered 700 offerings along with the king's skeleton, including jade, obsidian and carved shells. Those artifacts are in the Museum of Merida.
The tomb is guarded by high priests with flattened heads and crossed eyes. This was supposed to emphasize their difference from the lower classes. All the intermingling with the upper classes produced a lot of deformities, which were considered lucky.
The Acropolis offers wonderful views from the top.
Chichen Itza supplies stunning evidence of the astrological and archaeological wisdom of the Maya but Ek Balam provides the other half of the story, illustrating how they lived on an every day basis.