75 F
Sunday, September 26, 2021

A new power rises in the mountains, the mighty Toniná

Archaeology Monday provides historical background, photos and practical information about the wonders of Mesoamerican antiquity and how to get out and enjoy them for yourself. This week we venture off to the mountains of Chiapas to discover the mighty ancient city of Toniná.

Latest headlines

CFE buoys to protect flamingos from deadly electric shocks

In response to recent reports of flamingos being electrocuted in El Cuyo, the CFE installed buoys over cables in this area of Yucatán. 

Latin America’s first Airbus helicopter academy to open in Mérida

The academy will be the first of its type in Latin America and is slated to begin operations in January 2022.

Pedro Tec returns with 2022 calendar to support the Mayas Eternos foundation

Introducing the Los Mayas Eternos A.C 2022 calendar. Photo: Courtesy An artist-photographer's nonprofit foundation dedicated to bringing aid...

New season of Gastro Destino México to star 8 Yucatecan Chefs

Gastro Destino México Season 2 will begin filming shorty, though no release date has yet been announced. Photo: Courtesy
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
The enormous acropolis in Toniná, Chiapas. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Toniná is a Mesoamerican archaeological site of the Maya civilization in what today is the Mexican state of Chiapas, 13 kilometers from the town of Ocosingo.

In the Maya Tzeltal language, Toniná means house of stone. But the original name of the city found in ancient texts appears as Po or Popo.

Entrance to Toniná temple complex on the ground floor of the acropolis. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The archaeological site covers six hectares. The bulk of the construction is concentrated in the area of the acropolis, which is 74 meters tall and towers above the plaza below. This massive complex ranks amongst the largest architectural feats of Mesoamerica and is even taller than the massive Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan.

View from the sixth terrace of the Toniná acropolis. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Toniná was likely founded sometime in the 2nd century CE, but not much is known about the city during this era because most archaeological evidence from this period remains buried under later construction. 

An undecorated sarcophagus is found in the interior of the grand acropolis at Toniná. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The history of Toniná comes into clearer focus during the late classic in the 6th century CE. During this time, the city begins to experience a construction boom and begins to ramp up its militaristic ambitions. Thanks to inscriptions found on stelae, we have information pertaining to the rule of 13 different kings of the city. 

Sculpture of 6th century CE Lord of Toniná, Sotz’ Choj Muan. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

After coming to power in 688, king K’inich B’aaknal Chaak achieved a series of military victories over the city of Palenque, the premier power of the region during the classic age. In the following century, his heirs would go on fighting and capture Palenque, allowing Toniná to project its power across an enormous area. There is even evidence of Toniná capturing nobles from city-states in the Peten region, including Calakmul.

Likely administrative or elite residential complex on the grounds of the acropolis at Toniná. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

It is hard to overstate just how impressive the acropolis at Toniná really is. The massive plaza is made up of seven south-facing terraces all facing to the north. It has a very distinct sense of geometry with a right-angle relationship between most structures. The rulers of Toniná must have been going for shock and awe when laying out the plans for their capital. 

The view of the areas surrounding countryside from atop the structure is really quite wonderful.

A view of Toniná and its surrounding region from atop the acropolis. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Aside from being massive, the acropolis is also noteworthy for its stucco murals and several other interesting finds. The stucco relief is known as the “mural of the four eras” and depicts the god of death, Ah Puch or Kitizin, holding a decapitated head by its hair. 

Scene from the underworld depicting the Maya god of death, Ah Puch or Kitizin, holding a severed human head. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Keeping to the theme of decapitation, the relief repeats four times an image of an upsidedown decapitated head laying on what appears to be a bed of feathers— another allusion to the realm of the dead, or Xibalbá. 

An upside down decapitated head on a round shield of feathers lies in proximity to a crouching skeletal figure at Toniná. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Towards the bottom of the panel, there is an interesting image of a man contorting his body in what seems to be some kind of ritual dance. Viewed from another perspective, the man’s extended leg could be seen as about to kick one of the repeating upside-down decapitated heads. He also appears to be blowing air out of his mouth.

Dancing or kicking man in Toniná, Chiapas. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Inside a temple on the main acropolis is a representation of the maw of the monster of the earth, with a stone sphere inside its mouth, representing the sun.

A temple at Toniná contains the open-mawed monster of the earth. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

In Maya cosmology, this being held the sun in its mouth during solar eclipses and the nighttime hours. The monster of the earth is also closely associated with the realm of the dead, or Xibalbá, and is a common motif in Rio Bec Mayan architecture.

Mayist scholars believe that the monster of the earth is best understood as an elemental power rather than a deity or god. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Outside the main acropolis, the most prominent structure is Toniná’s ceremonial ball court, as well as a series of tablero talud ceremonial platforms. 

Ceremonial platform with a ballcourt in the background at Toniná Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Speaking of the Mesoamerican ball game, Toniná has several beautiful carvings depicting the ceremony, such as this relief structure from Monument 171. The scene depicts the King of Calakmul, on the right, competing with the deceased ruler of Toniná, K’inich Baaknal Chaak.

A Mesoamerican ball court game being played by two kings at Toniná. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

If you go

Toniná is almost exactly halfway between San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque. The roads in the area are treacherous, especially if the weather is poor. Your best bet is to hire a tour guide in either Palenque or San Cristobal. 

Toniná is in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. Image: Google Maps.

The altitude, along with the multiple twists and turns of the road, has been known to cause car sickness, so avoid eating too much for breakfast and bring along a box lunch. This area of Chiapas is also well known for its quality coffee production, so make sure you stop and pick some up. 

As with all archaeological sites in Mexico, it is prohibited to bring in food or drink, other than water. The entrance fee is 65 pesos Monday through Saturday. And on Sunday admittance is free for Mexican nationals and foreign residents of Mexico with ID.

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

More articles

Blocked from Chichén Itzá, new-age pilgrims congregate in Uxmal

Both Chichén Itzá and Dzibilchaltún were closed to the public during the fall equinox due to concerns over COVID-19 infections, as well as land disputes. 

Tensions flare over plans for Mérida’s new stadium

Promotion of Housing Industry, says Mérida’s new multi-purpose stadium will increase property values in the city’s north. 

Mérida’s most powerful art collection turns 50

The work of Yucatán's most celebrated muralist, Fernando Castro Pacheco (1918-2013), housed in Mérida's Palacio de Gobierno, turned 50 on Independence Day.

Casa del Águila: Just the right location for $150,000

Casa del Águila in Mérida is in just the right location. It is offered by Melissa Adler of Mérida Living Real...

Yucatán highlights the value of corn with three fairs in September

Three fairs in Yucatán will honor the labor of local communities growing and preserving creole corn.

Casa Vagantes is a rescued wonder found behind Paseo Montejo

Casa Vagantes comprises a traditional abode with a surface of 70 square meters / 754 square feet and has been fully revamped with modern travelers in mind.

Jazz festival to make its comeback in Playa del Carmen this November

The festival will be of a hybrid nature, with some of the events being held online to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, city authorities announced.

Mérida prepares to host Mexico’s most important tourism trade show

The event known as the Tianguis Turístico Mexico will bring together representatives from the country’s 32 states, as well as buyers from 70 countries.

The great Kukulkán prepares for his descent, but no one will be there to see him

As was the case during the last spring equinox, Chichén Itzá closed for three days as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

Yucatán hopes to administer 270,000 doses of rabies vaccine in new animal vaccination campaign

This week marks the beginning of Yucatán's rabies vaccination program for cats and dogs