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Tulum is another famous Maya ruin, attracting more than 2 million visitor a year. The name means walled city and while Tulum’s architecture is not as sophisticated as other sites its cliff-side location by the blue-green waters of the Caribbean is breathtaking. First known as Zama (city of the dawn), it is though to have been built as a ceremonial site for worshipping the sun. It later developed into a strategic military and trading post. Tulum has always held special significance for the Maya. From AD 987 to 1194, it was a principal city in the ancient League of the Mayapán. When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived, they spotted Zama from their ships and were so intimidated by its vivid 25-ft-high blue, white, and red walls that they were reluctant to land. 

Although abandoned 75 years after the Spanish Conquest, it remained independent for 300 years thereby becoming a symbol of freedom for the enslaved Maya. During the 1847 War of the Castes it became one of the last outposts of the rebel Mayas. When the Mexican army finally conceded defeat in 1915, Tulum was given to the victorious Cruzob Mayas as one of the holdings in the independent territory of Quintana Roo. The Maya gave Tulum back to the Mexican government in 1935. 

Unfortunately many of the buildings have been blocked off to preserve the delicate frescoes. Be sure to visit the two-story Temple of the Frescoes, to the left of the entryway. The temple's vaulted roof and corbelled arch are excellent examples of Classic Maya architecture. Faint traces of blue-green frescoes outlined in black on the inner and outer walls are honoring ancient Maya gods. 

The largest and most famous building is El Castillo (castle), which rests at the edge of a 40-foot cliff just past the Temple of the Frescoes. The front wall has carvings of the Descending God thought to be the Bee God or Corn God. Alongside are columns depicting the plumed serpent god, Kukulcán, first introduced to the Maya by the Toltecs. It appears the Castillo may have been the watchtower to monitor enemies approaching by sea. To the left is the Temple of the Descending God – named for the carving of a winged god plummeting to earth over the doorway. The same deity is seen in stucco masks along the corners and is thought to be the Bee God, Ab Muzen Cab, guardian of the coast and of commerce. Most of the other remaining buildings have flat roofs resting on wood beams and columns with few distinguishing features. At the north side, atop a hill are a few small altars offering an excellent view of the ocean and the Castillo. The tiny cove to the left of the Castillo is where the ancient Maya launched their canoes to trade along the coastal cities. Open daily 8 AM – 6 PM. Admission: $5, use of video cameras an additional $4. Free Sundays and holidays. Located on highway 307, 130 km (81 mi) south of Cancun. 

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