​​​​​welcome to the mayan ruins website .

drone image                                   ministry of culture and sports

stela 22 structure C6           museo nacional drawing Ian Graham

drone image                                                                    ministry of culture and sports

central acropolis                                                       vilma fialko

structure B15                                                              vilma fialko

structure 18                                                               vilma fialko

complex B% reconstruction                                 vilma fialko

structure A3                                                           vilma fialko

reconstruction                                                           vilma fialko

drone view acropolois             ministry of culture and sports MCS

vase                    simon burchell

hieroglyphic stairway 1                                    teobert maler

structure A3 tlaloc masks                                        vilma fialko

group A                                                                    vilma fialko

share your photos with us.

group B site plan                                     von euw and Ian Graham

core area site map                            ricketson modified by mellard

central acropolis                                                   rudy canales

structure B24                                                             vilma fialko

structure B20 tomb                                                  vilma fialko

structure B16                                                        vilma fialko

central acropolis excavations                                     vilma fialko

drone view                                     ministry of culture and sports

stela 6  strucre B4                           ymblanter

mural fragment                                                         vilma fialko

structure B18                                                        rudy canales

altar 2 structure B18                                 drawing  nikolai grube

vase of the seven gods                                               justin kerr

sculpture                                                vilma flaiko

group A acropolis                                            estuardo navichoc

stela 30 str C9         tatiana proskuriakoff.

NARANJO- Peten, Guatemala


Naranjo is an important Maya archaeological zone located within the Yaxha-Nakum-Naranjo National Park. Its original name has been identified as Sa’al, Maya for “Place of maize gruel”. Early accounts identify the site as El Manantial. The site is situated upon low hills, some of which were artificially modified, and the intervening lowlands, and set on a roughly East/West axis. It is a registered World Monument Fund site.

Naranjo is located east of Nakum and Yaxha and 6 miles/10 km from the Belize border in the northeast corner of the Peten. The major site of Tikal is just 30 miles/50 km to the northwest. The site lies within both the Holmul and Mopan River watersheds providing it with an excellent position to control, and benefit from, the important trade routes that ran through the Peten and beyond.

Naranjo has a long history dating from c.500 BCE through c.950 CE, and is known for the artistic beauty of its ceramics, and numerous stelae. The site is spread over 3 sq miles/8 sq km with the core area covering 1.35 sq miles/3.5 sq km. Over 389 structures have been recorded in the core area, making the site the second largest in Guatemala after Tikal.

The archaeological zone is best reached from the city of Flores in the Peten west along the Western Highway. It can also be visited from Belmopan, Belize from the east along the same Western Highway. The main entrance is through the visitor center outside the entry to Yaxha. Guides are required, and one can either hire a 4x4, a horse, or a bicycle (not recommended, the trail is very rough), or hike the approximate 10 miles/16 km. If hiking or traveling by horse, it is necessary to spend the night at the campground (bring your own gear).

The site can also be accessed from the town of Melchor de Mencos on the border with Belize 11 miles/18 km to the southeast. A dirt road leads close to the archaeological zone. A guide and 4x4 are required. Inquire within town.

HOURS:8 A.M.-5 P.M. everyday
ENTRANCE FEE: $10/80 Quetzals to enter the park. Additional fees depending on mode of transport and guides
GUIDES: Required. Can be hired at Yaxha Visitor Center, or in Melchor del Mencos
SERVICES: Bathrooms, Service kiosk, campground, outdoor kitchen
ACCOMMODATIONS: Hotels and hostels are located within Flores or La Maquina, and in Melchor del Mencos. Campground on site.
GPS: 17d 80’00” N, 89d 15’42” W
MISC: Best visited during the Dry Season (March-May). Bring food, drink, and camping gear as there are no sales within the park, though there may soon be camping gear rentals available.

Ceramics and masonry sub-structures reveal evidence of an early occupation at Naranjo during the Middle Preclassic (750 BCE-350 BCE) around 500 BCE. The next important chapter of Naranjo’s history is closely intertwined with the larger political conflicts between the major sites of Tikal and Calakmul/Dzibanche beginning in the Early Classic (250-600 CE). Naranjo is located within the realm of these two great powers, and due to its strategic location was constantly fought over.

Naranjo held sway over several other smaller kingdoms. A few early classic rulers have been identified from stelae, but no firm dates have been recovered. It is possible that these early rulers were installed through the actions of the warlord Siyaj K’ak, Fire is Born, whose entry into the Peten from Teotihuacan to Tikal and Uaxactun in 378 CE changed the course of history with regards to a large portion of the Maya Lowlands and beyond. Therefore, there may have been some type of dynastic union between Tikal and Naranjo during the fifth century.

The first ruler firmly placed within a time frame is Aj Wosaaj Chan K’inich (546-c.615 CE), also known as Anumsaaj Chan K’inich, who commissioned several stelae beginning with his accession on 6 Kan 2 Sip, May 5, 546 CE. The texts mention a previous ruler, Pik Chan Ahkul, and Lady Stone-in-Hand-Sky, most likely his parents.

The texts also reveal that the ruler’s accession was overseen by the Kaanul king K'altuun Hix, from  Dzibanche/Calakmul, and apparently no longer subordinate to Tikal, but now to that kingdom.

Naranjo is attacked by Caracol, a Calakmul vassal state, in 626 CE and by Calakmul itself in 631 CE greatly weakening the kingdom, but still surviving. In 644 CE Naranjo king K’ahk Tiliw Chan Chaak, allied with Xunantunich and Ucanal, turned the tables and defeated Caracol king K’an II, and removed his famous Hieroglyphic Stairway 1 back to Naranjo as a war trophy. So, back and forth it went.

The final blow for the ruling dynasty seems to have occurred c.679/80 by a rejuvenated Caracol that defeated Naranjo, part of a wider military conflict that saw Dos Pilas (also allied with Calakmul) defeat Tikal.

The king of Dos Pilas, B’alaj Chan K’awiil, installed his famous daughter, Ix Wak Chanil Ahaw, better known as Lady Six Sky, as ruler of a new dynasty at Naranjo in 682 CE. She ruled the kingdom as a Warrior-Queen; first as regent to her son; and then after his death (c730 CE) until her own death c.741 CE. During this time frame she and her son initiated numerous attacks against other cities including Tikal, Yaxha, and Bahlam Jol (Witzna).

Naranjo was decisively defeated by Tikal in 744 CE with its king, Yax Mayuy Chan Chaak being captured and later sacrificed. A lengthy hiatus in the recorded history of Naranjo then commenced.

The last known ruler of Naranjo is Waxaklajuun Ub'aah K'awiil, who ascended to the throne on, 1Imix 19 Mol-June 24, 814 CE, as is mentioned on Stela 32 from Ucanal. A stela erected by this ruler in front of Structure C9 records a date of 820 CE, the last date recorded at Naranjo/Sa’al.

 By this time the whole of the Peten and the surrounding areas were engulfed in destructive warfare with most sites, including Naranjo, being eventually abandoned. The site was later reoccupied on a small scale and finally abandoned for good c.950 CE. It was to become a pilgrimage destination from the Late Terminal through the Post Classic.

The first known explorations were carried out by Teobert Maler in 1905 who produced numerous photos, as well as the first site plan. He excavated the well-known Hieroglyphic Stairway from Structure B18. There followed Sylvanus Morley in March 1914, followed by Herbert Spinden, Oliver Ricketson, and Tomas Gann in the 1920’s. Richard E.W. Adams visited the site to make casts of the stelae at Tatiana Proskouriakoff’s urging.  Ian Graham visited the site in the 1960/70’s and recorded the many stelae, and produced a new site map.

In 1972 IDEAH removed 19 stelae for their protection due to the rampant looting at the site. IDEAH, and other associated institutions, began an extensive archaeological and conservation program in 2002 under the direction of Vilma Fialko that is ongoing.

The Naranjo core area is made up of 4 main groups, Groups A-D. These groups contain over 350 structures that consist of ceremonial, administrative, and elite residential complexes, and comprise an area of about 1.16 sq miles/3 sq km. These include 6 Triadic groupings, 2 acropolis/palace compounds, and two ball courts. Individual pyramidal structures, ceremonial platforms, sacbeob, aguadas and canals have been identified, along with an early “E Group”. There have been 48 stelae recorded along with two carved altars, which provide the historical narrative of the Naranjo dynasties. Earliest evidence of occupation has been identified in Groups B & D, with the basic layout of the site established by the Late Preclassic (350 BCE-250 CE).

The main civic/ceremonial group at the site is Group B. The structures are grouped around 3 plazas, with the Central Plaza housing the principal structures. The Central Acropolis, also known as the Royal Palace, is the largest construction, and is located on the west side of the Central Plaza. An east facing, plaza level stairway leads up about 33 feet/10 meters to the acropolis complex. The main acropolis structures form a triadic group arrangement consisting of Structures B14-16, and situated around a small plaza known as the East Patio.

Structure B15 is a large pyramidal structure situated on the west side of the East Patio, and is also known as the Five Story Palace. The pyramid exhibits stairways on three sides, and has four distinct terrace levels reaching a total height of 98 feet/30 meters. On each terrace level are several vaulted chambers connected lengthwise. Several earlier palace sub-structures are located beneath the current structure and feature decorative motifs.

Two structures, Structures B14 (North Palace) and B16 (South Palace), face each other across the East Patio in front of Structure B15, both being truncated pyramids with temple superstructures. Structure B16 consisted of two long chambers, the walls of which displayed ancient graffiti. In Structure B14 a large fragment of mural painting was recovered.

Structure B17 anchors the east side of the East Patio and is a range type structure containing several chambers that limited access into the acropolis complex. Excavations beneath the East Patio have revealed Preclassic palace structures, various offerings, and sculptured stone. Three plain altars have been located in this area.

On the south side of Structure B15 is the South Patio that is ringed by three small structures. The north side of Structure B15 features the North Patio whose east side is bound by a small structure. The north side houses Structures A18 and A20 of Group A, with the west side displaying a stairway that descends down to the Group A Main Plaza.

Facing the acropolis platform across the Central Plaza is a pyramidal structure, Structure B18, also known as the Temple of the Hieroglyphic Stairway. Structure B18 is a radial pyramid having stairways on all four sides. It is located in the middle of the Central Plaza. It faces west towards the acropolis complex and features six levels, the uppermost housing a two-level temple superstructure with several entryways. The final height obtained is about 49 feet/15 meters. This structure is referred to as “Yaxte”, the axis mundi, the center of the world. An altar, Altar 2, relates an important historical narrative and was found on the south side of the structure.

The famous hieroglyphic staircase was located at the foot of the west facing stairway of Structure B18. This staircase was removed from Caracol after the defeat of Kan II as a war prize in 644 CE. Important parts of it have also been recovered in Xunantunich and Ucanal, with a small fragment located within Caracol itself. Many of the individual steps are currently located in various museums around the world. An in-depth, future review of the stairway will be written up and published on this website.

The Central Plaza has an elongated structure, Structure B20, on its far east side, and is associated with seven stelae. Along with Structure B18 these two structures make up an “E Complex”, a frequent Preclassic complex that was constructed to observe the solstices and equinoxes, and/or other astronomical phenomena. A previously looted tomb was located within Structure B20, the remains of which included flint, obsidian, and partial remains of a green stone mosaic and a necklace. Seven stelae, Stelae15-18 and 32-34, were located here.

Structures B19 and B24, both truncated pyramids, face each other across the Central Plaza. Structure B19 is on the north side of the plaza and reaches a height of 56 feet/17 meters. Three stelae, Stelae 6-8, are located in front of this structure. Structure 24 is on the south side of the plaza and attains a height of about 82 feet/25 meters. A series of large masks decorated the upper level of the superstructure on the north, west, and south facades and its corners.

Structure B4 is found on the northwest side of the plaza. It is a rectangular platform. Stelae 6-8 were set in front of it.

A ballcourt, Ballcourt 1, is made up of two structures, Structures B32-33, and is located in a small plaza to the north of Structure B4. Its axis is on a roughly north/south alignment.

The last complex of note in Group B is located to the north of Structure B18 and consists of a triadic palace complex built atop a large platform base. The main structure here is Structure B5 which is a rather large pyramidal structure composed of five tiers with a temple superstructure on the uppermost level. In front of this complex is Ballcourt 2, Structures B9-10, set on a north/south axis.

Group C is situated at the east end of a short sacbe leading out from Group B, and displays two successive platform plazas in increasing height featuring several structures. Its main structures are located around the eastern most plaza, and form a triadic acropolis complex named after its main structure, Structure C9.

The pyramidal Structure C9 is located on the east end of the plaza, and is the largest structure in Naranjo attaining a height of 105 feet/32 meters. Its base measures 259 feet/79 meters x 194 feet/59 meters, and features a broad, central stairway facing onto the plaza. It rises up on its own three-tiered platform base. A central stairway leads part-way up to a narrow terrace which exhibits a temple/sanctuary structure with a length of about 66 feet/20 meters. In front of the temple are seven stelae, Stelae 27-31, lined up in two rows. Stela 32 is found at the base of the structure.

Excavations have revealed Preclassic substructures and an artificially built cave. Three other stelae, or parts thereof, have been located within the sub-structures of C-9.

Structure C6 is a pyramidal structure on the north side of the plaza, and reaches a height of 85 feet/26 meters. Three stelae, Stelae 21-23, are positioned in front of its central stairway which faces south onto the plaza and is across from Structure C7. Structure C7 is a pyramidal structure with a height of about 79 feet/24 meters. A stela, Stela 24, and its associated altar are located in front of it. Group C displays additional structures on modified hilltops to both its north and south.

A sacbe leads north from Group B up a modified hilltop to Group D. This group exhibits a triadic complex with its main orientation to the south. The largest structure, Structure D1, reaches a height of about 31 feet/9.5 meters. Three stelae, Stelae 38-40, and an altar, Altar 1, are associated with this complex.

Bordering onto the North Patio of Structure B15 is Group A. This group is situated around an immense plaza. Its principal structures are found in three groups.

The Western Acropolis is located on the west side of the plaza upon a large basal platform. This acropolis group is a Late Classic palace compound (600-850 CE) with Structures A1-6 found around a central courtyard. Structure A3 is notable for the large, stylized Tlaloc masks, the Central Mexican deity of rain and warfare, that appear on the facade of the structure.

The Quadrangle A19 complex is a series of vaulted palaces, platforms and oratories that takes up the northeast side of the plaza, and adjoins the Central Acropolis.

The north side of the plaza features two pyramidal structures, Structures A15 and A17 that are set on a shared platform base.

An elite residential group known as Hormigas Blancas (White Ants) is situated 2,460 feet/750 meters south of the Western Acropolis. The complex includes several palace structures and platforms.

The extensive residential periphery, an area of ​​approximately 37 square miles/100 square kilometers, includes at least 810 documented residential groups, and numerous small to mid-sized civic/ceremonial compounds. 

stela 15 str B20 Proskouriakoff


group A acropolis                                                    vilma fialko

group C site plan                                                           IDAEH

stela 24  str C7              metropolitan museum of art

hieroglyphic step                       sylvanus morley