Kohunlich, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Kohunlich is a large site about 25 kilometers east of the Rio Bec region, and about 65 kilometers west of Chetumal on Highway 186, and 9 kilometers south of the road. The site covers about 21 acres, surrounded by dense sub-tropical rainforest, and it contains almost 200 mounds, that remain largely unexcavated. The city was elaborately planned and engineered, with raised platforms and pyramids, citadels, courtyards and plazas surrounded with palace platforms, all laid out to channel drainage into a system of cisterns and an enormous reservoir to collect rainwater.

The site was settled by 200 BC, but most of the structures were built in the Early Classic period from about 250 to 600 AD. Many of them are still covered with thick vegetation and overgrown by trees. The city appears to have functioned as a regional center and stop along the trade routes through the southern Yucatan from Campeche and Rio Bec area to the west, and the cities along the east-coast and to the south, in the Peten region of Belize and Guatemala.

The road approaches the site from the north and leads into an enormous central plaza ringed by pyramids and temple platforms. To the north there is a massive, raised acropolis, or citadel, with a palace complex around a courtyard to the north-west. Further east there is the Pyramid of the Masks, built in honor of the sungod, with 6 gigantic stucco masks flanking it's central staircase. And south of the main plaza lies the marvelous, sunken Plaza Mervin, on the west side of the site, and a small ballcourt further to the east.

View of the North Palace Complex

Near the entrance at the northern end of the site, there is a large palace complex around a plaza west of the North Acropolis. This contains multiple structures on platforms lining the north and west sides of the space. The superstructure of most of the buildings has been destroyed, as it was made of perishable materials, what remains are the lower parts of the walls and the doorjambs facing the plaza. Most of the palaces have two interior chambers, between three parallel walls, and multiple doorways facing the plaza and in the interior walls behind them.

View of North Acropolis from the West

East of the North Palace is the North Acropolis, a somewhat later, fortified structure, which contains a raised interior courtyard that sits some 9 meters above the level of the plaza below. The Acropolis complex faces south into the Main Plaza, a very large square space at the center of the site. This view shows the broad stairway that leads to the upper courtyard of the citadel.

View of the Ballcourt from the West

The Ballcourt lies south of the Main Plaza, with low, sloping side walls running parallel east to west, and framed access areas at the east and west ends. At the north and south sides, the sloping terraces are terminated by flat platforms that must have supported buildings or pavilions of some kind.

View North across the Plaza Mervin

The Plaza Mervin is a large rectangular space that runs roughly east to west, on the west side of the site, and south of the central plaza. It is a large, sunken space surrounded by long, flat platform mounds, that are completely overgrown by thick, green moss. The center of the plaza contains more low platforms, in two rows, and the space is interspersed with slender palm trees forming a thick canopy overhead. Gaps in the trees make holes in the canopy, which throw bright circles of light on the soft floor of the somber and magical place.

View to the West in the Plaza Mervin

All of the platforms around the Plaza Mervin form low, one-story terraces that are accessed by broad stairways at the center. These probably supported palace structures similar to those seen at the North Palace complex. The platforms in the middle of the space are lower and smaller, typically square, and may have been altar or ceremonial temple platforms.

Stucco Masks on the Pyramid of the Sun

The Pyramid of the Sun, also known as the Pyramid of the Masks, is a three-tiered temple mound at the east end of the site, and on axis with the central plaza to the west. The west facade of the pyramid displays the form of six gigantic stucco masks, each about 3 meters high, which flank both sides of the central staircase on three levels, to symbolize the Sun and Venus at the equinoxes and the solstice.

Andreas Kultermann -
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