Top 10 less-crowded Mayan ruins and sites

Fri Oct 12, 2012 7:53am EDT
 
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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Heard about the end of the world in December 2012 as predicted by the Mayans? The members and editors of online travel consultants VirtualTourist (www.virtualtourist.com) have compiled a list of the "Top Ten Less Crowded Mayan Ruins and Sites" to help you explore the Mayan culture, but keep you off the heavily beaten path to Chichen Itza and Tikal before the impending doom. Reuters has not endorsed this list:

1. Calakmul, Campeche, Mexico

One of the most important cities of Mayan civilization, Calakmul was once home to more than 50,000 inhabitants. Though the city's timeline goes as far back as the Preclassic period (300 B.C. to 240 A.D.), its golden age was in the Classic period (250 A.D. to 900 A.D.), when it served as Tikal's main rival and battled for dominance of the central Mayan area. Many visitors might focus on the 6,000 structures within the city, but it's equally important to experience the surrounding Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, which encompasses over 723,000 hectares (292,594 acres) of protected land and wildlife. While the reserve is a paradise for bird watching, the site itself is a hotbed of stelae, or stone monuments, often in the form of a high-relief sculpture, that were popular and characteristic of the Mayan civilization. 117 stelae have been discovered at Calakmul so far, more than any other Mayan site, and all of them from the Classic period.

2. Clenque, Chiapas, Mexico

Palenque was the most important city of the low western lands during the late Classic period, reaching its peak between 600 and 800 A.D. Along with Tikal and Calakmul, it was one of the most powerful Classic Mayan cities, as well as the seat of the distinguished Pakal dynasty. Much of the architecture (tilted facades on the buildings, stucco-sections) is unique and uncharacteristic of the time period; it has become a real hot spot for archeological research interested in architecture and written language. One of the most notable aspects of Palenque is Temple XIII, where the Tomb of the Red Queen was found in 1994. This tomb is significant because it shares the same platform as the Temple of the Inscriptions, suggesting nobility; the remains found are referred to as "the Red Queen" because the tomb was entirely covered in red cinnabar.

3. Yaxchilán, Chiapas, Mexico

Located on the Usumacinta River, Yaxchilán is a great example of the Usumacinta style that dominated the Classic Mayan of the Low Lands from 250 - 900 A.D., with architecture adorned in epigraphic inscriptions and extensive relief sculpture. The city was allied with Tikal, and had a major battle with Palenque, which seems ironic according to a modern map since Palenque is in both the same state and nation as Yaxchilán and Tikal is across the border in Guatemala. The city exhibits strategic planning ,as it was built on a peninsula formed by a bend in the Usumacinta River. Even today, Yaxchilán can only be accessed by lancha (small boat) up the river.

4. Campeche's Edzná, Mexico

Despite being one of the most significant Mayan ruins, Edzná receives fewer visitors in a year than Chichen Itza does in a day. The city's architecture reflects an amalgamation of differing cities and influences, including roof styles and corbeled arches from Palenque and giant stone masks of the Peten style found in Tikal. Founded around 400 B.C., the city reached its peak during the late Classic period, with a gradual decline beginning around 1000 and its abandonment in 1450.   Continued...

 
A general view shows the exterior of the tomb of a Mayan ruler at the ruins of the Mayan city of Palenque in the hills of the southern Mexican state of Chiapas in this undated handout photo by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) released June 23, 2011. REUTERS/INAH/Handout