Izapa, a Mixe-Zoque site, is considered to be a bridge between the Olmec and Maya civilizations. It is the largest site in the state of Chiapas, and it is here that some researchers believe that the sacred 260 day ritual calendar was developed. It incorporates many visages of the Olmec culture, though other elements are purely Izapa style in nature. Among the monuments excavated are 89 stelae, 61 altars, and 3 thrones.
The impressive number of stelae found here have been labeled “Izapan Style” to denote others of a similar nature that have been found throughout the Pacific slope, and that reaches up into the Guatemalan Highlands. These sculptures are distinguished by carved low relief work, and are either commemorative or mythological in nature consisting of three zones; sky, earth, and the underworld. For the most part they do not exhibit glyphic text.
The area that includes the site of Izapa was important for cacao production, and was a late center for the production of prized Plumbate ceramics; high fired and with a natural polish.
Izapa is situated along the frontier with Guatemala. It is located outside the small town of Tuxtla Chico in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Chiapas that runs along the Pacific coast. The closest town is Tapachula located on Highway 200, and about 7 miles/11 kms from the site. The site can be reached traveling south about 240 miles/363km from San Cristobal de las Casas on Highway 190 to Huixtla, then east on Highway 200 to Tapachula.
HOURS: 9 A.M-5P.M. everyday, except Group F area closed Tuesdays
ENTRANCE FEE: Free
GUIDES: Organized tours can be obtained in Tapachula
SERVICES: Bathrooms, handicraft shop, soft drinks and water available
ON-SITE MUSEUM: No, but there is one located in nearby Tapachula
ACCOMMDATIONS: Lodging and restaurants can be found in Tapachula,
GPS: 14d 55' 23" N, 92d 10' 47" W
HISTORY AND EXPLORATION
The site has been continuously occupied from an early period dating from 1500 B.C. and on through 1200 A.D. Its peak occurred around 600-450 B.C, and most of the monuments date from this period. The early date given for its inhabitation has led some scholars to link the site with the Olmec centers in La Venta and San Lorenzo in Veracruz State. There are a number of stelae that appear to relate to the mythology found centuries later in the 16th century Highland Guatemalan book The Popol Vuh, clearly showing cultural continuity as described by the later Quiche Maya.
The importance of Izapa is in its art style revealed on the numerous stelae and altars. The several architectural groups that make up the site have structures arranged in a square facing onto a central plaza. The structures themselves are earthen mounds. The only stone structures found at Izapa are in Group F and date to the Late Classic (600-900 A.D.). There are eight main groups with six major plazas. Groups A, B, and F are open to the public. Groups A and B form the core area and are located on the south side of the road. Group F is located on the north side of the road.
Group A consists of a plaza surrounded by earthen platforms, the largest rising to 30 feet/10meters in height. Facing the platforms and arranged in rows are a number of stelae and altars. Some of the more important stelae are briefly described below.
Stelae 1 has been interpreted as a representation of the rain deity Chac who appears to be fisherman walking on water.
Stelae 2 depicts a scene from the Popol Vuh wherein the Hero Twins vanquish a bird deity known as Vacub Caquix/Seven Macaw, who has impersonated the Sun.
Stelae 5 is the most complex stelae found at Izapa. It appears to be a creation scene with the Cosmic World Tree at the center of the scene.
Stelae 25 appears to show another part of the scene as described on Stelae 2.
Group B is situated northeast of Group A and is also formed around a central plaza. The most notable mound here is Structure 30 which rises to a height of 51 feet/17 meters. Excavations reveal earlier construction phases that date back to the Early Preclassic. Again stelae, altars and other carved monuments are arranged in the plaza.
Group F is located on the north side of the highway and is planned in a similar fashion. This area was repurposed in the Late Classic Period and it is here that the earthen mounds are faced with a stone veneer. It is thought that a ball court may be located here.
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