The Fantastic Rio Bec Maya Sites

A group of similar-styled Maya sites located in the southern part of the Mexican state of Campeche is collectively known as the Rio Bec sites. Several are concealed by the jungle, but three of them, Xpuhil, Becan, and Chicanna, are quite accessible to vi

Xpuhil, Becan, and Chicanna can be visited on a daytrip from the city of Chetumal or en route to the city from Palenque.  The region may have been inhabited as early as 550 BC, but the Rio Bec architectural style, which the Pre-Columbian sites share, reached its peak between seventh and tenth century A.D.  The style is exemplified by elongated platforms and structures, flanked by slender, round towers, which are mainly adorned with representations of Itzamna, the creation god responsible for life and death.

(Maya ruins at Xpujil) Image source

The first site plainly visible from the road coming from Chetumal is Xpujil, where 17 building groups encircle its central square.  The most striking of these structures is the main temple with three towers rising over 15 meters from a low platform.  These pointy towers, which are typical of the Rio Bec design, rise majestically above the neighboring jungle.

(Structure VIII, Becan) Image source

About 6 km further west is Becan, which is believed to have been the chief Maya center in the region. Quite a number of Rio Bec towers can be spotted here.  Amazingly, the main buildings of Becan were bounded by a now-dry trench, which is 16 feet deep, 52 feet wide and about 1 mile in circumference.  Becan is also known for the strange chambers discovered in Structure VIII.  Since these rooms had neither means of light nor ventilation, they might have been utilized for religious ceremonies that involved total darkness and isolation.

(Structure XX, Chicanna) Image source

(Structure II, Chicanna) Image source

Located another 2 miles further west, Chicanna possesses the most incredible building designs among the Rio Bec sites.  The name, which is Mayan language for "house of the serpent's mouth," refers to Structure II, which has a façade in the figure of a snake's head formed by an elaborate stone mosaic, while the snake's mouth forms the entrance.  Situated apart from the main plaza is Structure XX, which is a two-tiered structure with its side decorated with masks of the rain god, Chaac.

(Pyramid at Calakmul) Image source

(Stele 43 on Base of Structure II at Calakmul) Image source

Near the village of Conhuas, roughly 37 miles west of Xpujil, a minor road splits to the south and after another 37 miles, leads to Calakmul, one of the major Maya cities during the Classic period (A.D. 200-1000).  This is the site of the 165 feet high pyramid, the largest in Mexico.  Around a hundred monuments or territorial markers called stelae can still be seen on the site.

(Part of the stucco frieze, Balamku) Image source

Balamku, located just west of Conhuas, was accidentally discovered in 1990.  Its most prominent feature is a building, known as the House of the Four Kings, which has a 55-feet long stucco frieze that is thought to symbolize the relationship between Maya royalty and the universe.

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Felisa Daskeo
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John Smither
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Jerry Walch
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Posted on Jun 25, 2012