YAXHA, Peten Department, Guatemala
Yaxha, Blue-Green Water in Maya, is a large, picturesque site located within the Yaxha-Nakum-Naranjo National Park, a sub-tropical rain forest preserve. It is one of the few sites that retains its original Mayan name reflected in the glyphic inscriptions found at the site.
Yaxha is situated on the north side of a lake of the same name, part of the East Peten Lakes Region, and is set upon a hill-ridge line that rises to a height of about 547 feet/168 meters. There are over 500 structures, most of them small residential platforms, located within and outward from several compact plazas and architectural groups. These include nine pyramids, two ballcourts, and numerous altars and stelae, all set around several plazas.
The plazas were linked by internal sacbeob (raised, white stone roads), and are named after notable explorers. The population at its height has been estimated at over 40,000 spread out over 92 sq miles/237 sq kms, making Yaxha the third largest Maya city behind El Mirador and Tikal so far discovered in Guatemala. The site is located about 19 miles/30 kms south of Tikal.
Yaxha lies just off highway CA 13 which runs between Flores and the Belize border. At the town of La Maquina, km 62, take the turnoff north for about 5 miles/8kms to the park entrance. Flores can easily be reached by car, bus and aircraft from both Guatemala City and Belize.
HOURS: 8 A.M.-6 P.M, everyday
ENTRANCE FEE: $10 U.S./80 Quetzals
GUIDES: On site, though guide services can also be found in Flores and La Maquina
SERVICES: visitor center, snack shop, camping, bathrooms.
ON-SITE MUSEUM: small museum with some stelae located inside the visitor center
ACCOMMODATIONS: Hotels and hostels are located within Flores and La Maquina; onsite camping facilities
GPS: 17d 04’ 34” N, 89d 24’ 9” W
MISC: on site boat transport across the lake to Topoxte is apparently available, as well as, arrangements to visit Nakum and Naranjo
HISTORY AND EXPLORATION
Yaxha was first settled by 700 B.C. during the Middle Pre-Classic (800-300 B. C.). Masonry architecture begins by the late Pre-Classic (300 B.C.-250 A.D.), and the city attains its prominence during the Early Classic (250-600 A.D). The Late Classic (600-900 A.D.) saw a renewed construction phase. It remained a viable city after the Late Classic collapse, and continued on into the Terminal Classic (900-1150 A.D.).
Over 40 stelae have been recovered from the site, though most are either plain or too eroded to provide much information. Those that have legible glyphs have provided some history of the city and its relationships with other sites in the general vicinity.
At the end of the Early Classic an earthquake severely affected Yaxha and the nearby site of Nakum. The East Acropolis was damaged, and may have been abandoned for a time. The structures were consolidated during the Late Classic which saw an increase in building activity.
Yaxha comes under the influence of the major city/state of Tikal located just 19 miles/30 kms away during the Early Classic. At this time Central Mexican influences are detected attributed to the arrival from Teotihuacan of Siyaj K’ahk to Tikal in 378 A.D. This major event greatly influenced the cultural and political identity of the Maya.
Complex regional dynamics were played out at Yaxha. Naranjo, about 12 miles/20 kms to the northeast, was an important site whose timeline was contemporary with Yaxha. This site was allied with Calakmul. The city/states of Calakmul and Tikal were bitter enemies, with Yaxha and Naranjo acting as their proxies. During the Late Classic these latter two sites were in continual conflict over control of the important trade routes that passed through the region. Naranjo defeated Yaxha on at least three occasions during the 8th century, capturing and sacrificing its kings at least twice, but was never able to dominate it.
The last dated stela at Yaxha contains a date equal to 796 A.D., and references an equinox event. The only ruler identified so far is K’inich Lakamtuun who ruled in 799 A.D., and who was captured by the Naranjo king Itzamnaaj K’awiil and presumably sacrificed.
The small site of Topoxte is located on an island in Lake Yaxha. It was closely related to Yaxha, and continued to be occupied when Yaxha itself was mostly abandoned around 950 A.D. Ceramic evidence indicates a small presence at Yaxha until Topoxte itself was abandoned around 1450 A.D.
Yaxha was first rediscovered by noted explorer/photographer Teobert Maler in 1904. There followed Sylvanus Morley (1914), Frans Blom, and then the Carnegie Institution in the 1930’s. The site was documented in the late 1960’s by Ian Graham. Mapping and initial excavations took place in 1970 led by Nicolas Helmuth. The National Tikal Project conducted a survey of architectural damage at Yaxha in 1987, and in 1988 work was undertaken in order to stabilize some of the structures. Since 1989 the Guatemalan Institute of Anthropology and History has led ongoing excavation, consolidation and conservation of Yaxha and its surroundings.
Yaxha consists of several main plazas surrounded by some very impressive structures. Due to the hilly terrain, stairways both ancient and modern connect some of the plazas. There are other smaller plazas and architectural groups that exist throughout the site with most of these connected by internal sacbeob. The site is currently entered from the southeast into Plaza C.
Plaza C is a rather small plaza, but noted for a number of stelae located here, and an astronomical E Complex. It is entered between two medium sized mounds, one being part of the E Complex.
The E Complex consists of two main structures. A nicely restored pyramid/temple structure is located on the west side of the plaza. It has stairways on all four sides. Across from it on the east side of the plaza is a mound-covered, three-structure complex with a length of about 522 feet/160 meters. This complex runs north/south with the central structure slightly larger than the adjoining structures. An observer atop the pyramid/temple on the west side of the plaza would observe the sun at equinox rise over the central temple structure on the east side of the plaza, while the sun would rise on the solstices above a temple from either of the adjoining structures depending on the time of year. The E Complex arrangement was first identified at the site of Uaxactun.
There are three covered stelae, Stela 3-5, located on the east side of the plaza with Stela 4 containing a glyph that names the ancient city. A small mound is located on both the north and south sides of the plaza. In the center of the plaza the modern trail forks either to Plaza B or towards the Central Acropolis.
A short sacbe, Calzada Galindo, leads up to Plaza B, a rather large platform built upon the highest hill at the site, and which was artificially leveled. Two modern sets of stairways lead up to the plaza level. The west side of the plaza contains a two-level platform having a broad central stairway. An eroded stela, Stela 36, is set in an upright position at the foot of the stairway.
The east side of the plaza is dominated by an enormous mound about 18 feet/5.5 meters in height. The Palace, Structure 216, is visible from the Plaza B level. An unexcavated, monumental stairway leads up to a large courtyard/plaza that contains the East Acropolis complex. At the foot of the stairway is a stela, Stela 11, that depicts the Central Mexican rain god Tlaloc. Another stela is located in front of it though very eroded.
The East Acropolis is accessed from the north via a very long, and high modern stairway. One enters the courtyard/ plaza between the Palace annex, Structure 219, and a jungle covered mound.
The Palace, Structure 218, is situated on the west side of the courtyard/plaza, flanked by Structures 217 and 219. This structure dates to the Early Classic, and featured numerous renovations and additions that were carried out well into the Late Classic. Several vaulted chambers were constructed on both the east and west sides of the structure. While most of the vaulted roofs have collapsed, many of the rooms survive. An offering consisting of 9 obsidian eccentrics, 14 flint eccentrics, and a spondylus shell, was deposited underneath one of the chambers. An 8th century renovation incorporated Structures 217 and 219 which together created a new facade having nine doorways and additional vaulted chambers. The remains of a giant mask and painted murals have been discovered within the structure. A number of burials have been recovered from within the Palace.
There are two mound-covered structures situated on the north and south sides of the plaza, and are thought to have been of a civic/ceremonial nature. A round altar is located in the center of the plaza.
The East Acropolis contains the highest structure at the site, Structure 216, sometimes referred to as the Temple of the Red Hands. It is located on the east side of the plaza. This impressive, pyramidal structure reaches a grand height of about 124 feet/38 meters. It has had a least four construction phases dating back into the Pre-Classic. Its current form was attained in the Late Classic and has nine levels featuring nice rounded corners. A stela, Stela 41, is found at the base of the structure. A single, central stairway rises to the summit, though this is not used by visitors. The pyramid summit is accessed on the north side once again by a long, high, modern stairway. An impressive, double chamber temple crowns the summit having three entrances. Incised drawings onto the temple wall plaster, and a red handprint have been documented within the temple. Red handprints have been recorded at a number of sites such as Coba, Kabah, and San Gervasio, though their exact meaning remains unclear. The summit offers a stunning view of the surrounding area including Lakes Yaxha and Sacnab. When descending the summit stairway of Structure 216 an off-shoot of the stairway leads down to Plaza A.
Plaza A is located just to the north of the East Acropolis, and dates from the Late Classic. It is set upon a raised platform base, and is noted for its Twin Pyramids. This architectural arrangement is known form nearby Tikal. It features identical pyramids facing one another across the plaza on its east and west sides. They are currently mound covered. These each have a stairway on the four sides, and have a leveled summit without a masonry temple.
At the base of the west pyramid is Stela 13. This stela has been dated to 793 A.D., and features the image of a ruler of the city along with glyphic information regarding the celebration of an equinox event.
On the north side of Plaza A are the remains of foundation walls of a square structure about 3 feet/1m in height. This structure has been named the Sacred Precinct. A large, circular altar is located within. The south side of the plaza is taken up by a long, low mound with a central stairway.
A series of modern stairways leads down to the extreme north end of Plaza B. A pathway, known as Calzado Este, leads past some residential platforms and on into the core area of the site and to Ballcourt 1.
Ballcourt 1, Structures 395 and 396, is situated on the east side of a small plaza, Plaza D. It has a broad stairway that leads up on the east side of Structure 395. On the north side of the plaza is a jungle covered mound known as the Pyramid of Sacrifices. On the south side is a lower, excavated level of the South Acropolis revealing Structures 389 and 391, containing four rooms that have corbel vaulted roofs.
The South Acropolis sits upon a modified hilltop, and its initial construction phase began in the Late Pre-Classic and ran through the Terminal Classic (900-1150 A.D.). A large, stepped platform base contains six interior courtyards surrounded by numerous structures, mostly of an elite residential nature exhibiting corbeled vaulted roofs. Courtyards 5 and 6 on the north side of the complex provided the main access stairway into the acropolis. A temple structure, Structure 363 is situated between these courtyards with an access stairway leading down to Plaza E. A stela is situated on the west side of the temple. Courtyard 4 is the only area so far to have received major excavation and restoration work, and is accessible to visitors.
Courtyard 4 is currently entered from the west. A modern stairway leads up to the courtyard with a partially restored structure, Structure 375, on the south side. It is a multi-chambered structure, currently exhibiting a single entryway. The rear of the structure displays some nice corbeled vaults. Inside one of the chambers is a crudely, incised depiction of a ceremonial procession.
The foundation walls of a structure, Structure 365, have been excavated and restored. It is located on the north side of the courtyard. Other unexcavated mounds are evident on the east and west sides of the courtyard. A small rear stairway leads down to ground level from the backside of Structure 375 onto a pathway known as Via 6.
Plaza E, Plaza of the Birds, begins on the north side of the South Acropolis. It features the unrestored Northeast Complex on the east side. This complex is set upon a large platform base and contains a triadic assemblage of structures which dates from the Pre-Classic.
In front of the Northeast Complex is a small mound where two stelae are located, including a replica of Stela 31. A long mound, Structure 119, runs the length of the plaza on the west side, and incorporates the remains of several small structures. Directly to the west and behind Structure 119 are a series of plazas and architectural groups, mostly in an unexcavated state. The north end of the plaza features an unexcavated ballcourt, Ballcourt 2, and the North Acropolis.
The North Acropolis is set upon a large platform base, and is well known for its arrangement of three pyramids set across from each other within a compact plaza. These have been nicely restored, and recall the architectural design layout as seen at its bigger brother, Tikal, minus the soaring roof combs. They are on the north, west and east sides of the plaza, and each is crowned with a masonry temple. All exhibit decorative skirt moldings.
The east and west pyramids have secondary stairways that flank a central stairway which extends to the summit temples. A stela is set in front of the east pyramid. The north pyramid has an elegant design with a single, central stairway leading up to a summit terrace. Situated at the north end of the terrace is a multi-level temple accessed by a central stairway.
The south side of the plaza is taken up by three small structures, the southwest structure being of a palace design and is the only one partially restored. A structure of a possible civic/administrative nature is placed between the palace and the west pyramid. An entry stairway behind the palace leads down to a sacbe, Calzada Blom, which leads north to the Maler Group.
The Maler Group lies at the end of the Calzada Blom which is a continuation of a grand sacbe that bisects the site and runs about 3,586 feet/1,100 meters north from Lake Yaxha. This section of the sacbe is rather broad, and has low retaining walls on either side. There are three principal structures here, Structures 1, 4 and 6.
Structure 1 is on the west side of the plaza which is named Plaza of the Shadows. It is the highest pyramid within the plaza with a central stairway rising up five levels. A sixth level incorporates a single chamber structure with east and west doorways. Two small platforms, Structures 2 and 3, have outward facing staircases that occupy the northwest corner of the plaza.
A pyramidal structure, Structure 4 holds down the east side of the plaza. The pyramid rises off a low platform base which has steps that run the length of the platform. The base measures 85 feet/26 meters x 59 feet/ 18 meters, and the whole structure reaches a height of 32 feet/9.7 meters. A central stairway leads up from the base to a multi-chamber temple. A stela is located in front of the platform base.
Adjacent to, and set back from the east pyramid, is a large platform base measuring 153 feet/47 meters x 137 feet/42 meters. The platform base serves as a raised plaza which contains several structures, the most notable being Structure 6. This pyramidal structure measures 81.5 feet/25 meters x 49 feet/15 meters. Rather than face the main plaza, this structure faces south, and is located on the north side of the platform plaza. It reaches a height of 26 feet/8 meters. A central stairway leads up to a multi-chamber temple. This structure exhibits several construction phases.
A buried, Pre-Classic sub-structure incorporates two sets of large masks that once flanked a central stairway on the south side. A single mask was located on the north side of the structure. The platform plaza was originally accessed by a stairway on the south side of the platform base. A small courtyard behind Structures 4 and 6 houses three small mounds along with Structure 5, a small two-level structure. A number of offerings have been unearthed here.
There are other single structures and small architectural groups located throughout the site, mostly consisting of unexcavated mounds.
north acropolis south west corner structures
structure 219 palace annex rodrigo moreno
south acropolis courtyard 4 str 365 rodrigo moreno
structure A11 jose lara
maler group structures 4 & 6 simon burchell
north acropolis north pyramid temple simon burchell.
palace 216 from plaza B rodrigo moreno
north acropolis plaza jason houston usaid
north acropolis north pyramid dennis jarvis
south acropolis courtyard 4 str 375 rodrigo moreno.
site plan nicholas hellmuth/FLAAR
structure 216 east acropolis dennis jarvis
stela 11 plaza B marie carianna
view of palace and lake yaxha from structure 216 dennis jarvis
structure 216 summit temple alejandro anzueto v
palace 216 east acropolis dennis jarvis
maler group structure 4 rodrigo moreno
maler group structure 1 rodrigo moreno
temple of the columns plaza B rodrigo moreno
welcome to the mayan ruins website .
stela 31 plaza E leon petrosyn
maler group structure 4 rodrigo moreno
plaza C west pyramid leon petrosyn
sunset from structure 216 east acropolis adam jones
structure A12 twin pyramid and stela jose lara
temple of the columns plaza B rodrigo morenoe.
ballcourt 1 looking south rodrigo moreno
ball court 1 looking north xavi andrew
north acropolis cafeyaxha
ballcourt 1 east stairway dennis jarvis
plaza C stelae and east structure rodrigo moreno
south acropolis structures 389 & 391 adam jones
structure 219 east acropolis dennis jarvis.
north acropolis north pyramid yiran ji
south acropolis courtyard 4 str 375 rodrigo moreno
maler group structure 6 rodrigo moreno
south acropolis structures 389 & 391 rodrigo moreno
north pyramid north acropolis yiran ji
it's a long way down rodrigo moreno