UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Calakmul

This spectacular Maya site is located in the Mexican state of Campeche and, during the heyday of the Maya Civilization (between 300-900 A.D.), there were few cities that could rival its population and sheer vastness. At the height of its power (around 600 A.D.), Calakmul boasted a population of around 50,000 inhabitants over an area of 70 square kilometers. Its tallest pyramid, Structure 2, is one of the tallest of the Maya pyramids, standing around 150 feet tall. It has a total of nearly 1,000 mapped structures.

Considered a Maya “superpower”, Calakmul was locked in a centuries-long rivalry with the other great superpower, Tikal (another World Heritage Site) for mysterious reasons- some hypothesize that their rivalry was a simple fight for resources or dominance, while others believe that ideological differences were a key point of dispute (Tikal was far more patriarchal than Calakmul). This battle for dominance seesawed back and forth until both cities began to succumb to the imminent Classic Maya collapse in the 800s, itself an archaeological mystery. It was around that time that settlements in Yucatán (such as Chichen Itza) became the centers of Maya power.

Calakmul (by the 1900s covered by the forest) was rediscovered in modern times by botanist Cyrus Lundell, who was amazed at the number of stelae (sculpted stone slabs that, most often, proclaimed the city or king’s achievements). At the time, Lundell recorded 60 stelae at the site; now, however, it is known that over twice that number exists at Calakmul. In 2002, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the the wealth of information it has provided about the structure of Classical Maya cities and the rich Maya culture. 

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