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door jambs structure 1A1 reed.edu
codz pop c.1887 teobert maler
yax kan group inah
codz pop interior chamber c.1841 frederick catherwood
north plaza rose vekony
strcture 1A6 hjpd
red handprints structure 1A1 hjpd
great pyramis reed.edu
structure 1A1 detail hjpd
palace c.1882 desire charnay
east group sigvaid linne expedition 1932
site map inah
codz pop south side inah
kabah arch c.1889 henry sweet
codz pop west side charles s rhyne
structure 2A1 hjpd
codz pop west facade elizabeth krumbach joseph
south plaza/codz pop pedro montes campo
west group site map inah (modified)
door jamb chamber 21 ela ginalska
palace/21C2 pavel vorobiev
structure 1A6 hjpd
structure 1A5 hjpd
structure 2C1 north plaza erudito081194
cchamber 21 upper section door jamb ela ginalska
aerial view yax kan and east group inah
palace 2c2 north plaza charles s rhyne
structure 2B1 pyramid platform reed.edu
kabah arch pavel vorobiev
structure 1A1 hjpd
structure 1C1 east group hjpd
structure 1A4 hjpd
tecolli and structure 2C4 reed.edu
codz pop west interior chamber paval vorobiev
teocalli west side tato grasso
removal of lintel from str 1A1 c.1841 frederick catherwood
yax kan group palace inah
codz pop nw corner tato grasso
sub-plaza structures reed.edu
aerial site overview inah (modified)
KABAH, Yucatan, Mexico
Kabah, Lord of the strong/powerful Hand in Yucatec Maya, is an impressive Maya archaeological zone set at the foot of the Puuc Hills. It is located in the western Yucatan along both sides of Highway 261, and south of Merida along the “Puuc Route”. The site is the second largest ruin site in the area after Uxmal, and is one of a series of Maya ruins that can be found in the general area. The architectural style is named after the arid hill country in which they are located. Others are Uxmal, Nohpat, Sayil, and Xlapak.
The superb stone workmanship of the Puuc sites is inspiring, featuring finely crafted veneer stones and intricately carved stone mosaics. Sculptured statues found at Kabah are exceptionally rendered, nearly in the round.
There are no cenotes in the area, therefore water was of a particular concern. Water catchment systems were incorporated into many of the structures and plazas, and aguadas (natural depressions) were lined with stucco to act as reservoirs.
A well-known 11 mile/18 km sacbe (raised white stone road) leads out from the northwest portion of the site passing by the little-known site of Nohpat before ending at Uxmal. This sacbe was part of a wide-ranging system of interconnecting causeways found throughout the Northern Yucatan. These causeways, an engineering marvel, are finally receiving the attention they deserve. See my report on one such causeway; the 62 mile/100km Coba/Yaxuna Sacbe found on this website.
ENTRANCE FEE: U.S. $4.50/75 Pesos
SERVICES: Restrooms, beverages, handicrafts
ON-SITE MUSEUM: No, though a regional museum is due to open early 2024
ACCOMMODATIONS: Nearby towns of Santa Elena, Ticul, Muna, and Oxkutzcab offer hotels and hostels. Day trip from Merida
GPS: 20d 15' 13" N, 89d 39' 19" W
HISTORY AND EXPLORATION
Excavations have revealed an early settlement history of Kabah dating back to the Middle Preclassic (700-300 BCE). The buildings that one sees today date from the Classic Maya era (600-900 CE) and are termed Puuc style, with some characteristics of contemporary Chenes architectural elements. The earliest recorded date located so far is 859 CE found on a door jamb in the East Group. Unfortunately, many of the site’s door jambs, sculptured panels and lintels containing glyphic information have been removed to museums or lost.
There is little reported public information on the site’s rulers and political/economic relations, though images of four separate rulers have been identified on sculptured panels within the site. It is supposed that Kabah was under the influence of its larger cousin Uxmal.
The site was first reported on by those intrepid explorers John Lloyd Stevens and Fredrick Catherwood in the 1841. Benjamin Moore Norman visited the site in 1842 and remarked on the structures in his Rambles in Yucatan. Desiree Charnay explored and photographed the site in 1882. Teobert Maler photographed the site in 1887. The Peabody Museum expeditions to Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil and Labná, occurred during 1888-91, led by Edward Thompson including photographer Henry Sweet among others.
Several expeditions were made in the early part of the 20th century. The Sigvaid Linne Expedition conducted investigations in 1932. Harry Pollock made a detailed architectural survey for the Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC in 1934-45. Alberto Ruiz of INAH led an excavation and restoration project in the 1950’s. Another restoration project was led by Ramon Carrasco beginning in the 1990’s. Exploration, excavation and restoration work by INAH and international partners continues to this day.
There are several plaza/courtyard groups that contain the major constructions. Numerous smaller structures are located throughout the site, mostly as unrestored mounds. The main plaza groups are: the West Group; the Northwest Group; the Central Group; and the East Group. In addition, several tombs have been discovered within the site.
The most imposing structure seen today is the Codz Pop/2C6 or Palace of the Masks. It is part of the first structural group encountered upon entering the site and is located in the southern area of the East Group, and part of the South Plaza Complex.
This complex is constructed atop a huge, three-tiered platform plaza measuring about 339ft/103m x 107ft/32m. A broad, west facing stairway rises up to the South Plaza. On the south side of the plaza is a large, unrestored pyramid platform, Structure 2B1, housing several ruined summit chambers. It was accessed via a central plaza-facing stairway. A small, ruined, five-chamber structure is located on the north side of the plaza.
The principal structure is the Codz Pop set on the east side of the plaza, and contains 26 chambers. This amazing structure, at over 170ft/55m in length, contains on its west façade over 250 Chaac rain god masks. Each mask is composed of 30 carefully carved mosaic stones. An incredible, labor-intensive undertaking and an awe-inspiring sight. These masks are executed in a style known as Chenes. This side of the palace has five double-vaulted chambers each entered through a single doorway. Some of the chambers exhibit an interior Chaac mask that acts as a step into the rear chamber. There is a single chamber on the north side of the structure. The south side of the structure has two chambers. A line of Chaac masks is seen along the plaza level. A column of stacked Chaac masks forms one end of the two chambers. Topping off the structure is a high, decorative roof comb which gives the impression of even greater height and grandeur. A stunning site in the sunlight.
In the center of the South Plaza is found the Hieroglyphic Altar. This has now been recognized as a low platform structure measuring about 21 feet/6.5 meters on each side. One stairway is visible on its west side, and there may have been stairways on one or more of the other sides. Its importance lies in the numerous glyph blocks that are incorporated into its sides.
There have been about 144 stone blocks so far recorded that incorporate glyphic information. A 1950’s restoration reset 54 of the blocks back into the platform. The rest are placed nearby awaiting their turn. While the original reading order and full decipherment of the complete text is unclear, a degree of information has been determined. This includes glyphs regarding royal authority with possible date ascensions, ritual activity, and possible military victories. The style of the texts indicates that several artisans were employed in its rendering.
The South Plaza also contains a water catchment system constructed below the surface. It has been restored, and today provides the site with its only water supply.
The east side of the Codz Pop has a stunning façade featuring intricate mosaic designs, with pedestals set into the upper medial molding. These pedestals once supported several wonderfully sculptured statues. Two of these original sculptured statues have been restored and returned to their proper place. They are very detailed, larger than life renderings of rulers of the site.
The east side houses nine, single room chambers, a number that evokes ritual connotations. Chamber 21 on this side of the Codz Pop contains a set of well-carved door jambs that feature rulers, captives, and glyphic information. A reconstructed date of 859 CE has been identified on one of the jambs. Recent investigations have revealed a set of doorjambs within chamber 1 on the north side of the structure. Each jamb displays three scenes and two bands of text. A reconstructed date of 10.2.3.11.6 9 Kimi 8 Zots, March 9, 873 CE has been offered. A lower, decorative band of pure Puuc geometric designs runs the exterior length of the structure.
A stairway on the east side of the Codz Pop platform descends to a shared, raised terrace featuring the west side of the Teocalli complex, Structure 2C3. The Teocalli complex is another part of the East Group, and fronts onto the North Plaza.
The North Plaza consists of several structures, and is accessed from the west via a large sub-plaza containing some partially restored structures on its north and east sides. The structure on the north side has been partially restored and exhibits five chambers, each with its own entryway. The east structure backs against the Palace Complex which also has five chambers, with one chamber entered between twin columns. A standing monument is in the center of the courtyard.
Two west-facing stairways lead up from the sub-plaza to the North Plaza itself. Several structures surround the plaza. A large structure on the south side of the North Plaza is known as the Teocalli, Structure 2C3, and is considered an elite residential structure. It features 36 vaulted chambers; 20 on the lower level, and 16 on the second level. The plaza level portion of the structure has been restored on its north, south and west sides. The north side of the structure faces onto the North Plaza. A flying stairway leads up to a second level terrace. The stairway is flanked by two plaza level chambers entered between twin columns. At the far end of each chamber is an additional single chamber entryway.
The plaza facing stairway leads to a second story terrace that encircles a large pyramidal platform housing vaulted, twin chambers on all four sides. A second flying stairway exists on the west side of the structure and faces the Codz Pop. This side features some nicely restored chambers. An unexcavated terrace stairway leads to ground level on the south side.
There are partially restored structures that take up the west, southwest and north areas of the North Plaza. The north structure, Structure 2C1, forms a small complex composed of several structures. Two of them still exhibit a restored vault, and one entryway features twin columns. A small, interior patio is present. The southwest structure, Structure 2C4 is a two-chamber structure accessed through three entryways. An interior, longitudinal wall divides the chambers. The west structure is the smaller of the three, and has a single chamber accessed through a central entryway. Next to this structure is a low platform which presumably held a structure of a perishable nature. A small platform with a standing columnar altar, and a chultun (storage well) are set in the center of the plaza.
The main structure here is known as the Palace/Structure 2C2, and is located on the east side of the North Plaza. This is an impressive, two-story structure with the remains of a two level, open roof comb. The design of this structure is very similar to the beautiful three-story palace at Sayil. A flying stairway leads to the second story which displays nine plaza-facing chambers. These are arranged in a very nice symmetrical order, two with twin-columned entrances. The plaza level shows six, plaza-facing, mostly unrestored vaulted chambers. The entire lower façade displays a series of colonnettes. It has 32 single, vaulted rooms in all, 16 on the first floor and the same number on the second. A rear terrace stairway leads down to a courtyard. All these Puuc style structures are just simply inspiring to behold.
A stairway on the north side of the North Plaza leads down to a wide terrace supporting two partially restored structures. This complex is called The Cocina Real, and appears to have been an area devoted to the preparation of food and other domestic activities.
About 327 ft/100 m to the east of the North Plaza are two individual structures. The one structure open to visitors is known as the Temple of the Columns/Structure 1C1. This is another nicely restored structure. It has five wide doorways opening into vaulted, interior chambers. The structure is ringed by a three-member medial molding featuring banded colonnettes, and demonstrate a pure Puuc architectural style.
The other structure is a four-chamber structure set on a low platform base. It has been reported that many of the stones from these structures were used to build the nearby Hacienda Santa Ana.
The above-described structures all appear on the east side of the highway. Across the highway are several, important structural groups.
The west side of the highway features a cluster of plaza groups. Most of these are currently closed to visitors except the Arch, and the newly restored Quadrangle/Yax Kan Group. The first group seen along the path is known as the Central Group.
On the north side of the path is located the Pyramid Complex. This complex is in an unrestored state. It was built atop a large, low platform, here called the Great Pyramid Plaza. and houses several structures. Unfortunately, the construction of Highway 261 sliced through the northeast corner of this plaza destroying that portion.
The Great Pyramid, Structure 1B2, is the dominant structure of this group and is set on the north side of the platform plaza. It has several tiers, and exhibits sweeping, curved corners. The pyramid base measures around 141 feet/43 meters x 180 feet/55 meters, and contains a four-chamber temple on its summit accessed by a plaza-facing stairway. The height is estimated to be 125 feet/38 meters.
At the foot of the pyramid are two single chamber structures that flank the stairway. Located in front of the pyramid are four altars, two of which have carved bas reliefs depicting individuals wearing bird-helmets in a ritual context. On the west side of the platform plaza is Structure 1B3, and on the east side a smaller pyramid mound.
Structure 1B3 is formed by a pyramidal platform base with a single chamber temple on the summit. The base measures about 98 feet/30 meters square, with a height of around 23 feet/7 meters.
At the foot of the south side of the platform plaza is a newly restored structure. The structure is an elongated range-type structure set on a low two-tier platform base, and acted as a gateway to the Great Pyramid Plaza. A south-facing central stairway leads up from the visitor pathway to two structures divided by a passageway. A longitudinal, interior wall divides the east structure into four chambers, each with its own entryway. The west structure is unevenly divided into five chambers. At the back of the structure a stairway leads to the Great Pyramid Platform Plaza.
On the south side of the visitor pathway across from the Pyramid Complex is the Quadrangle, now known as Yax Kan. There are several structures that surround a large courtyard. The northwest side of the courtyard is taken up by a long, elongated range-type structure, and is thought to have been an elite residence/palace. The structure has a length of about 84.5 feet/26 meters. The main façade features a portico with eight pilasters and nine entryways. Remains of a decorative frieze was recovered from the structure that included motifs of feathers and birds. The staircase displays vestiges of a stucco figurehead.
The northeast corner houses a structure divided by a passageway and contains several chambers. The east and west sides of the Yax Kan complex have also been restored featuring wide stairways, porticos, and numerous chambers. The south side of the courtyard is taken up by a long range-type structure that has yet to be restored. All these structures have courtyard facing stairways. This group is still undergoing restoration activities, and access may at times be limited.
At the southwest corner of the Quadrangle is another complex of unrestored structures. It is here that the sacbe from Uxmal, Sacbe 1, terminates. From the southern portion of this complex another sacbe, Sacbe 2, runs due south across Highway 261 to the South Pyramid Complex, Structure 3B1, currently closed to the public.
The visitor pathway continues westward and intersects with the Uxmal sacbe, Sacbe 1. The imposing Arch is seen to the north and is thought to have been the entrance to the site. This undecorated arch, perched atop a stepped platform, is still impressive at over 15 ft/4.5 m in height.
To the west of the Arch is the Early Group, and the Northwest Group. The Early Group consists of several partially restored structures. The Northwest Group runs on an axis about 15 degrees east of North along a low hill ridge. There are two main structures located here Structures 1A1 and 1A2.
Structure 1A1 is a rectangular, residential building housing 18 chambers that ring a solid interior core. This two-story structure is also referred to as Dzalkabilki/House of the Red Hands for the handprints found in chambers 4 and 5. Red hand prints are seen at San Gervasio and a few other sites. The significance of these handprints has not been fully determined. A flying stairway is located on the east and west sides of the structure. Remains of decorative, stone mosaic masks are still visible on the second story.
It is from Structure 1A1 that John Lloyd Stephens removed a carved, wooden lintel to ship back to the United States most likely from chamber 6. It was unfortunately destroyed soon after arrival by fire, though a drawing by his artist companion, Frederick Catherwood, survives. Many other items from Kabah and elsewhere from their travels were irretrievable lost in the fire. These items were to be the foundation of a museum that Stephens had planned to construct. Two surviving stone doorjambs from the West Group that were removed by him are currently housed in the American Museum of Natural History, NYC.
Structure 1A2/House of the Frets is an elongated range-type structure having 14 chambers with the doorways supported by either stone or wood lintels. The center chamber has two rooms. The rear of the structure has an annex that houses two twin chambers. Remains of a mask façade once decorated the east side of the structure. A central, east-facing stairway leads down to a wide terrace.
Directly below Structures 1A1 and 1A2 is a small complex made up of several structures, 1A3-6. Some of these have been excavated and partially restored, with the two-story Structure 1A4 being the most important.
Further south along the ridgeline is the West Group, another large residential group. It has two attached complexes set on the ridgeline.
The complex set on the higher part of the hill contains Structures 1A7 and 1A8 positioned on the west and east sides of a large courtyard. Structure 7 is on the west side of the courtyard, and has five east facing chambers. Structure 8 is on the east side of the plaza and exhibits six west facing chambers. These two constructions have low masonry walls, and most likely had roofs of perishable material.
The lower complex is set on a very large terrace, and houses Structures 2A1-3 facing inward around a central courtyard.
Structure 2A1 is the principal structure of the group and is located on the west side of the courtyard. It is made up of eighteen chambers arranged on two levels. The lower level has seven chambers that face east onto the courtyard. Other chambers are located on the north and south side. A flying stairway leads up from the east side to a second level terrace. The second story structure contains eleven rooms symmetrically spaced around the structure. Chamber 9 displays red handprints on the vault soffit. This room also displays the names of two early explorers: Teobert Maler in Februrary 1887, and Ayme on June 22, 1882. Ayme was a US counsel at Merida, and frequently accompained Desire Charnay on his explorations of the Yucatan. The exterior facade was once highly decorated with stone mosaic designs and masks with some remains still evident.
Structure 2A2 is on the north side of the courtyard and is composed of six chambers, three of which face onto the courtyard. The center chamber has a rear room that is divided into smaller rooms. Chamber 3 displays the remains of a stucco design. What is observed are feathers that still retain traces of red paint. The exterior of the structure once had a decorative facade that ran the length of the structure with some elements still to be seen.
Structure 2A3 is found on the south side of the patio. This is an asymmetrical structure housing 7 chambers. It is in a ruinous condition. John Lloyd Stephens removed two beautiful door jambs from this structure. They are now located in the American Museum of Natural History.
There are numerous other single structures and small groups located throughout the site awaiting excavation and restoration.
updated September 2023
structure 1A1 detail hjpd
codz pop east side dan himes
west group george andrews (modified)
structure 1A2 hjpd
codz pop east side sculptures dennis jarvis .
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lintel structure 1A1 f. catherwood