Comalcalco

The ancient Mayan city of clay bricks and oyster and seashell mortar

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It is located 56 kilometers from the city of Villahermosa and 2 kilometers from the city of Comalcalco, Tabasco

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Monday through Sunday from 8:00 to 16:00

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46 pesos

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When the traveler arrives at Comalcalco, the easternmost site of Mayan culture, they have the impression of being able to hold the pyramids in their hands. Thanks to recently deciphered hieroglyphs, it is now known that the city’s original name was “Joy Chan” or “Hoi Chan”, which means “Cloudy sky”.

Comalcalco’s present name comes from the amazement of the Náhuatl, who arrived at the area when it was uninhabited and found structures built with clay bricks, a material unknown to them, so they decided to give it a descriptive name close to something they knew, the comal, naming it “Comalli-Calli-Co”, which means “House of the Comal”.

Dating back to the end of the late Classic period (700-900 A.D.), the architecture of Comalcalco is quite original, as it is not made from stone, but brick, bound together by an elaborate mortar made from seashell and oysters. On the bricks you can often see figurative carvings and glyphs drawn while they were still wet, with various anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, epigraphic, symbolic, geometric, or architectural themes.

The settlement occupies a surface of 7 square kilometers and has numerous architectural groups which were decorated with embossing and stucco figures painted in bright colors (red, blue, green, yellow, and black).

The Comalcalco site was discovered by the French explorer Desiré Charnay towards the end of the 19th Century and, although it has been described since then, it was not until 1956 that it was systematically excavated by Mexican and North-American archaeologists Gordon Ekholm, Román Piña Chan, George Andrews, and José Erosa Peniche. Thanks to them we now know that this pre-Hispanic settlement was built and inhabited by the Chontal Mayans and had its peak between 800 and 1000 A.D., in other words, at the end of the Classic period (200-850 A.D.) and in the beginning of the Postclassic period (850-1521 A.D.).

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Comalcalco was an important and strategic trading spot. Its geographical situation, in the Chontalpa region, next to the margin of the Mezcalapa River, also known as Dos Bocas (known today as Río Seco), provided a privileged position for interregional traffic of merchandise between the Gulf coast and the Yucatán Peninsula, from the central high plateau and the northern end of the Gulf of México.

Three architectural groups can be distinguished in the monumental area: The North Plaza, the Great Acropolis, and the East Acropolis.

The Great Plaza consists of various temples, although only three of them have been excavated, numbered from I to III, the latter of which has five structures.

The Great Acropolis is the most interesting. It is an architectural complex that groups, all under one base, a series of civilian and religious buildings constructed in different levels. Named by the archaeologist Ekholm, the most interesting buildings are The Palace, the Sunken Patio, The Stucco Tomb or Tomb of the Nine Lords of the Night, Temple VI or Temple of the Mask, and Temple VII or Temple of the Seated Chieftains.

Some temples have a vaulted chamber inside the foundation on which they are built, serving a double function as temple and tomb.

Near the base of the Great Acropolis, there is a well-preserved stucco sculpture called Mask of the Sun God.

The East Acropolis has an interesting cemetery, where 66 bodies were found, deposited in funeral urns, with cranial deformities, jade filings and incrustations in dental pieces, displaying the high lineage of those buried.

Comalcalco has a nice site museum, redesigned for 2012, with an excellent collection of bricks “carved” by Mayan artisans, who reproduced countless figures.

Tips...

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Take comfortable footwear, preferably something sporty, that allows you to walk and access the different areas of the archaeological site.

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From the city of Villahermosa, the archaeological zone of Comalcalco can be reached by highway 180...

From the city of Villahermosa, the archaeological zone of Comalcalco can be reached by highway 180 to the city of Cárdenas, from there take highway 187 to the north to the city of Comalcalco. Continue driving for 2 kilometers until reaching the sign on the left that indicates the entrance to the archaeological zone.
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