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Dzibilchaltun was originally known as Ch'iy Chan Ti'Ho This well-known site is renowned for the appearance of the sun shining through the doorway of the Temple of the Seven Dolls on the spring equinox. The site is a short drive north from Merida just off Highway 261 on the turnoff to Chablekal. The site at one time covered approximately 12 sq. miles/19 sq. kms, however the current core zone is much smaller and easily visited.
It has been estimated that upwards of 40,000 people inhabited the site and surrounding area. There are three main plazas in addition to the Temple of the Seven Dolls which is located at the east end of a long sacbe (raised stone causeway). Apart from being an archaeological zone it is also a National Ecological Park.
The site has a fine museum with numerous stone monuments and statues found at the site and surrounding area, along with a complete history of the Yucatan with an emphasis on the Caste War 1847-1901. Well worth a visit. There is a small restaurant as well.
ENTRANCE FEE: U.S. $5.00/65 Pesos, plus $2.50 for video camera. There may be additional fees.
GUIDES: Yes, inquire at visitor center for current rates
SERVICES: Restrooms, restaurant, visitor center
ON-SITE MUSEUM: Yes, and highly recommended
ACCOMMODATIONS: Plenty of Hotels in nearby Merida
GPS: 21d 05' 20" N, 89d 35' 31" W
History and Exploration
Dzibilchaltun is among the oldest sites on the Yucatan Peninsula dating back to as early as 500 B.C., and was still inhabited at the time of the Spanish Conquest. It is thought that the city was founded for developing the sea salt flats that dot the nearby coast. Salt was a major Maya trade commodity, and the flats are still commercially worked today. Most of the buildings date from the Early Classic through the Terminal Classic period (250-1100 A.D.).
The first organized excavations of the site were carried out in 1956 by the National Geographic Society, and the Middle American Research Institute of Tulane University, though the site had been reported on earlier. Other investigations were carried out in the 1960's and 1980's. There has been recent restoration work, notably to the southwest and west plazas under the direction of Ruben Maldonado of INAH. The southwest plaza is now open to the public.
The principal structure here is known as the Temple of the Seven Dolls, named after an offering found within the building. This is an early structure that had been covered by one of a later date. Due to the poor condition of the later building most of it has been removed to expose the well preserved temple found underneath it. It is a square structure oriented to the cardinal points with entry openings on all four sides, and windows on the east and west sides. Inside is another square support chamber. It is built atop a two-tiered platform. A frieze of stucco masks and other elements decorated the exterior.
The building is renowned for the appearance of the sun at sunrise which shines directly through the east/west door openings of the temple during the vernal equinox. This was a significant agricultural and calendrical marker for the Maya. The temple is the central structure of its own plaza, and is located at the eastern end of Sacbe 1. The sacbe itself runs east/west and is .4miles/.64 kms in length from the Main Plaza, Plaza 1.
The west side of the temple plaza is made up of 3 structures similar in design and set on a north/south axis, each with double hallways, and having 3 entrances. There is a small single hallway structure just to the north. To the southeast of the temple is another small structure also with a double hallway. To the east of the temple is a single roomed structure with 3 entrances. Under the floors of the west structures numerous offerings were found containing sting ray spines, shells, obsidian, and objects made from green stone. The structures date to around 800 A.D. On visits during hot summer days take the alternative route through the surrounding sub-tropical low forest.
Heading west on Sacbe 1 towards the Main Plaza is Structure 12 set in the middle of the sacbe. A worn, plain stela is set upon a platform base with short stairways on all 4 sides. It would appear that at Dzibilchaltun the necessary artisans to carve stone stelae were not always readily available. Which raises an interesting question. How and where, were artisans trained and employed? Were they mobile, going from site to site offering their services? Did visiting master craftsman give on-site instruction classes? Building these structures and monuments were massive undertakings. At any rate, it is probable that most of the plain stelae here were once covered with a coating of stucco, and then inscribed with the necessary information. Nonetheless, a few carved stelae are found at the site containing, among other historical information, a date of 830 A.D.
On the south side of the sacbe further westward are two areas of structures of a residential nature. They are mostly unrestored, but worth a look.
Just prior to arriving at the Main Plaza are three stelae on square platforms on the south side of the sacbe. This area is known as the Stelae Plaza. They are set up in a very deliberate manner about 100 feet/33 meters apart on a north/south axis. Again, these stelae are worn and plain. It would have been interesting to know what history they once recorded.
The very large Main Plaza, 437 feet/133 meters x 343 feet/105 meters, is anchored on the northeast by Structure 36. This is a four-tiered pyramid with a central stairway and rises to a height of about 33 feet/10 meters. In the center of the plaza is a 16th century open air chapel, a common practice of the early Spaniards. An interesting, and perhaps unique feature here, is that all the structures in the Main Plaza, excluding Structure 36, have plaza facing stairways that run the entire length of the structure.
Structure 44 is a wonderful structure of 425 feet/129 meters in length, on the south side of the plaza, with a continuous stairway that runs its entire length. It has a platform base that rises up 14 steps to the top, about 15 feet/5 meters. Very impressive! This structure was presumably of a civic/administrative nature with equal access to the numerous rooms that run in two parallel hallways the length of the top of the platform. It has a near identical twin at the site of Edzna named the Nohoch Na.
The east side of the plaza consists of 3 structures. Structure 42 is the most notable, set on a long, raised platform with a west facing terrace. Backing the terrace are a number of multi roomed structures. A tomb of a 9th century ruler, Kalom Uk’uw Chan Chac, has been discovered here. The next structure is a raised platform of about 10 feet/3 meters in height. The final structure is a simple, low, square platform that forms the northeast corner.
On the west side of the Plaza 1 is a cenote (natural water filled sink hole), Xlacah Cenote, that was the source of drinking water for this relatively dry site. It is used as a swimming hole today.
Just north of, and abutting onto the cenote is Structure 45 South. This structure is a truncated pyramid with the remains of a double chambered temple on the top. Structure 45 North is immediately to the north of Structure 45 South. This is a smaller structure, more rectangular, with a single chambered room.
The northwest corner of the plaza is anchored by Structure 37. This is a raised, rectangular platform about 102 feet/31 meters x 50 feet/15.25 meters in length and width.
Behind Structure 37 is a group of 4 structures collectively known as Structure 38. They form around a small plaza with the east structure being a nicely restored one-room temple.
To the south of Xlacah Cenote is the Southwest Plaza, Plaza 2. This area has recently undergone some restoration, and the plaza cleared of undergrowth. It measures 376feet/143 meters x 269 feet/82 meters. The most significant structure here is Structure 46, an acropolis style structure with numerous rooms and terraces set on tiered levels. A broad stairway leads down to the plaza. To the east of this structure is a nicely restored ballcourt. Further to the west is Plaza 3, currently closed to visitors. This plaza has a high pyramid as its main structure.
There are other smaller structures and platforms scattered throughout the site, including Structure 40, a square platform, and a structure known as the Standing Temple, having a nice twin, corbel vaulted roof. These two structures are found to the west of Plaza 1 along Sacbe 2.
There are a number of sacbe that run from the Main Plaza out in the cardinal directions. The one to the west, Sacbe 2, is a fine example which may at one time have stretched out towards the site of Komchen.
stelae plaza pedro sanchez
temple of the seven dolls gunnar wolf
structure 41 central plaza vmenkov
temple of the seven dolls dan himes
stela 12 and temple of seven dolls steve mellard
site plan google earth