Ek Balam Mayan ruins near the colonial city of Valladolid in Yucatan, Mexico
Text courtesy of INAH, from signs on site at Ek Balam
Ek Balam is a Yucatec Maya name that may be translated as "the black jaguar" or "bright star jaguar." The enormous dimensions of the buildings on this site are what stand out, as well as the fact that two walls surround the central part - an uncommon attribute. The most important structures are found within the walled enclosure of less than one square kilometer and are distributed within two large, connected plazas referred to as the Central and South Plazas. Numerous constructions of different sizes are found around these. The walls have five entrances in different sections of its periphery and five sak be´oob (roads) which depart from the entrances in the direction of the four cardinal points. The South side of the wall is a special case. It has two entrances and two sak be´oob. The most important cultural period at Ek Balam was the Late Classic (700 - 1000 A.D.), however the early inhabitants remained living there until after 900A.D., as indicated by a few small constructions built after this date. Their characteristics are very different form the older buildings which make it clear that the society suffered some changes and dedicated less resources and work to construction.
Entrance "Sac bé" (white path) leading into the ruins - Bromiliads on a tree
Commander Juan Gutiérrez Picón relates in the "Account of Ek Balam - 1579," that Captain Francisco de Montejo granted him the capital of the district of Tiquibalon (Ek Balam containing five villages) for having been one of the conquerors of the region. According to this account, it is also stated that Tiquibalon was founded and populated by the great man called Ek Balam, who built most of the five structures at the site. Other captains under his orders constructed the rest.
Top photo, the ball court - bottom photo, structure 17 in Plaza Sur
Structure 17 (above) which we call the twins, is located to the West of the South Plaza and represents the best conserved architectural characteristics at Ek Balam. It is formed by a large foundation upon which two others were built to support two vaulted buildings of four rooms each. The structure measures 40 m. in length, 17 m. wide and is approximately 6 m. high.
Stela and alternate views of structures in and near Plaza Sur
Structure 10 (above right) measures 43 m. in length, 30 m. wide and is approximately 5 m. high. There are three more structures on its upper part. Two of these are low platforms with no construction on top of them and the other is a small vaulted temple with thick walls and an alter located in its interior. Due to its architectural characteristics, it is associated with the "miniature temples" of the East coast of Quintana Roo. Although the base corresponds to the Late Classic (700 - 1000 A.D.), the upper structures were not built until the Post Classic (1200 - 1542 A.D.)
A visitor waits in Plaza Central while her family climbs the largest pyramid, Structure 1
The decoration of Ek Balam's building facades was not done with carved figures in the stones as it was at Uxmal and Chichen Itza, but with stucco and limestone mortar modeled into distinct forms and then painted. During the excavation, two stucco masks were found which formed part of the decoration. The only decorative stone elements in this building are the small hoops in the corners of the rooms.
Preservation and re-creation of the modeled mortar decorative style of Ek Balam
Climbing the great pyramid and exploring structure 1
The best time to visit Ek Balam is during a trip to the ruins of Chichen Itza, or the colonial city of Valladolid in the interior of Yucatan. Ek Balam archaeological zone is roughly a 2 hour drive from the Riviera Maya and is located 40± kilometers north of Valladolid on the road to Rio Lagartos. From Tulum it is easiest to take the Coba road west, stay right at the Coba ruins exit and continue on the road to Chemax and Valladolid. From Cancun it is easiest to take the Cuota road toward Merida and exit at Valladolid, then go north. There is a sign on the exit ramp.