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Area O: State of Campeche - North


     Edzná    *****


The ruins of Edzná (meaning House of Grimaces) are the main attraction of this Area, and they constitute an archaeological zone conceived on one of the grandest scales to be seen in the Yucatán. The chief feature is the famous and monumental Building of the Five Stories and the imposing Great Acropolis upon which it is set.

Like the other ruins in this area, Edzná is most easily accessible from the town of Campeche that lies fifty kilometres to the west. There are several companies that run trips to the site. The journey takes about an hour; it is best to leave early. Ask at the Tourist Information office at Campeche.


Culture: Puuc Maya (Late Edzná)

Late Pre-Classic Early Classic Late Classic  
300BC 1 00BC 1 00AD 3 00 5 00 7 00 9 00AD
Early Edzná Phase Interlude Late Edzná Phase

Edzná had a longer history than most other Mayan sites and this is chiefly because it was developed over two major phases. The small agricultural village settled in 400BC mushroomed over the next five hundred years into an urban centre that dominated this part of the peninsula. This was achieved by the construction of a sophisticated system of reservoirs and canals to store rainwater, so essential for supporting the large population that quickly grew. There were important links with the Maya of the Petén.

From 150AD, there was a mysterious ceasing of major construction. The most probable explanation is that the city did eventually exceed its capability and became unable to sustain the population, and evidence also points to possible invasion and external conflict. Edzná's trade with the Petén continued, however, therefore proving that it remained inhabited. 

Then in 600, there was another burst of activity and growth, maybe influenced by the arrival of another group. It was during this second major phase that most of the Edzná that we see today was constructed and this renaissance once more saw the city's rise to regional power. This time, the trade links were made between the Rio Bec and also the Puuc, which we may definitely say had the predominant cultural and architectural impact on the new, monumental constructions in the ceremonial centre.

The decline of Edzná construction and stela erection after 900AD coincides with the general abandonment of the Puuc cities at the end of the Late Classic. War and natural disaster have been cited as the chief causes of this final decline.

For more about other Puuc Maya cities, see Cultural History.

Tour  (Scroll down to follow complete tour, or click on feature below and use your BACK key to return to the map)

The main features of interest today at Edzná cover a modest area.

  1. Patio of the Ambassadors

  2. Platform of the Knives

  3. Nohochná

  4. South Temple

  5. Ball Court

  6. Temple of the Masks

  7. Structure 419-2

  8. Temple of the Decorated Stairs

  9. Northeast Temple

  10. Temazcal

  11. Southeast Temple

  12. House of the Moon

  13. Building of the Five Storeys

  14. North Temple

  15. Old Witch

The path from the site entrance brings us into the ceremonial centre, beginning with a small plaza known as the Patio of the Ambassadors. Thought to have been built at the very end of Edzná's period of dominance, it consists of low, mostly ruined buildings, but is noted for a small Puuc-style arch. Its name was given in recognition for donations to the site from European ambassadors.

    Patio of the Ambassadors

Adjacent to this, to the east, is a long, platform with several ruined structures called the Platform of the Knives because of a number of flint blades discovered. There are two buildings with rooves at both ends, now collapsed.

Platform of the Knives   

Our attention will be drawn by the huge staired platform that borders the west side of the well-mowed Main Plaza. Known as the Nohochná (Large House), it has the appearance of a terraced grandstand. Along the top of this building is a line of column stumps before a long interior gallery. The Nohochná would have given a good view of rituals conducted in the Main Plaza, and today it still commands an excellent panorama of the Grand Acropolis on the opposite side.


Before exploring the Grand Acropolis itself, however, we will continue our tour of the other features. Bordering the south side of the Main Plaza we find, surprisingly enough, the South Temple. This is a pyramidal construction, supposedly in the Petén style, that stands 11 metres high. There is a sloped ramp on this face instead of steps, which is an architectural feature here at Edzná.

    South Temple

Right next to the South Temple is Edzná's Ball Court that helps to divide the Main Plaza from the Old Plaza. This court is large and possesses one stone ring.

Ball Court   

Crossing over into the Old Plaza, we find on the opposite side its chief feature, the Temple of the Masks. This is a covered, stepped platform noted for its two exceptional painted stone faces, near the base. They show rulers stylised as the sun god complete with dental mutilation and earplugs -  signs of beauty. The masks date from the Early Edzná Phase and the similarity with the amazing masks of Kohunlich is inescapable and logical considering the links with the Petén region at that time.


To the east of the Old Plaza, a short flight of steps leads up to the Little Acropolis upon a five-metre high and 70 metre wide platform. Once again dating from the early period, we find four pyramidal temples bordering each side; the low, stepped one nearest the entrance is known as Structure 419-2. The Temple of the Decorated Stairs, or Structure 419-3, on the opposite side, is the highest and is noted for its decorative reliefs.


Little Acropolis

Now we are ready to turn our attention to one of the most impressive architectural accomplishments ever achieved in the Yucatán. This is the Grand Acropolis, a square platform measuring 160 metres a side and 8 metres tall, that was conceived as one complete unit during the Late Edzná Phase. It is entered by a wide staircase flanked on the left and right by the Northeast Temple and the Southeast Temple respectively. These are solidly built pyramidal constructions. On the left of the stairway head is a ritual steam bath accessed by a columned porch, known as the Temazcal.


Grand Acropolis: Panoramas

On the south side of the Grand Acropolis we see the House of the Moon. This is a wider stepped building of similar style but with a platform and a ruined temple above.

    House of the Moon

We inexorably come on to the Building of the Five Storeys, the highlight of this tour. This is a monumentally and complexly  constructed edifice on five tiers, with a crowning temple and defining half-intact roof comb. The total height of the structure is 35 metres. On each level we see entrances like empty eye-sockets opening in to interior chambers and corridors, although the style of construction differs at each tier, reflecting contemporary styles of the Puuc and Rio Bec regions. On the fourth tier, a column partitions the doorways. The topmost temple contains three rooms and a grand vista of the whole ceremonial centre can be obtained from it. The position of the building was supposed to allow the sun into the chambers and rooms at dusk.

    Building of the Five Storeys


On the north side of the acropolis stands the North Temple which is similar in size to the House of the Moon but more architecturally complex, consisting of rooms, interior stairs and a more complete surmounting temple.

If time permits, one more feature of Edzná can be explored before we leave. The path leading back to the site entrance forks, and in taking the left branch we will, after a quarter of an hour's walk or so, come into a clearing where we see a huge, pyramidal overgrown mound, known as the Old Witch, in front of a plaza with altars. Only the base of the pyramid has been restored although we can see it consisted of at least five individual tiers. This large but nearly entirely ruined construction dates from the end of the Early Edzná Phase.

    Old Witch

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