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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Dzilam, a once-mighty stronghold, is nearly beyond recognition today

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Though little remains of the glory of Dzilam, there is still enough to help piece together its story. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magzine

In the Yucatec-Maya language, Dzilam roughly translates as “the strong-willed warrior.”

The remains of a carved stone Maya stelae depicting two bound captives were built into the facade of a church in Dzilam González. Photo: Courtesy / Photographer unknown

But the might of Dzilam, now known as Dzilam González, has long faded, giving way to a tiny and rarely visited community. 

An aerial view of Structure 1 in Dzilam González. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine 

The archaeological remains found in Dzilam González were first documented by the renowned explorers John Loyd Stephens and Frederic Catherwood in 1843. 

Image produced by Frederic Catherwood in 1843 showing the remains of the largest pyramid in the town of Dzilam González. Photo: Courtesy

Just before the conquest, the archaeological remains in the community of Dzilam González belonged to a large kingdom with its capital in Izamal.

The largest surviving structure in Dzilam González, known as Structure 1, has been pillaged to the point that most of its architectural features have been destroyed beyond recognition.  

The best-preserved section of this once-majestic temple is a wall on its eastern side, which unrestrictedly faced the backyard of a modest home. 

Vegetation grows around the eastern wall of Structure A in Dzialm González. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Surrounding Structure 1, several contemporary structures are built out of the temple’s stones.

An outdoor kitchen sits next to Structure 1 in Dzilam Gonzalez. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine 

Another large surviving structure in Dzilam González can be found sandwiched between homes and businesses on an adjacent street.

Structure 2 in Dzilam González is even more neglected than Structure 1 and is often found littered with garbage. 

Though there is nothing impeding you to climb this ancient structure, it is not recommended. Stones have been loosened by time and pillaging makes it quite dangerous, not to mention destructive. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

That said, the remains of a handful of architectural features can still be gleaned from Structure 2. 

The remains of what was likely a wall holding up a vault at Dzilam González’s Structure 2. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

While ruined temples in the countryside are not exactly rare in Yucatán, one thing that makes the case of Dzilam González particularly disturbing is that lotting of its ancient treasures appears to continue to this day

Climbing the “mul” or pyramid of Dzilam Gonzalez has been prohibited, likely in relation to the recent cases of theft. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

An investigation into the theft of carved stones from structures in Dzilam González is underway, according to INAH. Local sources tell us that the removal of these archaeological artifacts occurred during daytime hours by men in city-owned pickup trucks.

A view of city hall in Dzilam González, just a few hundred feet from Structure A. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Spread throughout the community, it’s possible to spot the remains of stelae, though these fragments are terribly eroded. 

Due to their poor condition, even upon close inspection, it is impossible to make out any features of these ancient carvings or determine if they are the same ones photographed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The story of Dzilam González’s cultural heritage is one of neglect and theft. Here is hoping that this most recent spate of incidents will finally move the community and state/federal authorities to take real action. 

The remains of one of many structures which used building materials from Dzilam’s ancient structures. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

If you go

Most people who visit Dzilam González do so coming from communities like Espita or Tizimín on their way to the coastal town of Dzilam de Bravo, less than 10 miles north. 

Dzilam González is almost exactly halfway between Temax and Dzilam de Bravo. Map: Google Maps 

Though trying to piece together what ancient Dzilam must have looked like in its heyday is no easy task, it is well worth it, especially for those with a keen interest in archaeology.

A fragment of an ancient stelae is now covered by a thatched roof in Dzilam González. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
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.
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