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Edzná, the great second city of the Itzá

Archaeology Monday provides historical background, photos and practical information about these ancient marvels and how to get out and enjoy them for yourself. This week we set our sights on Campeche’s great Itzá capital, Edzná.

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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.
The Five-Story Temple in Edzná, Campeche. Photo: Luis Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Edzná is a large archaeological site located 52 kilometers southeast of the city of Campeche. In the Yucatec-Maya language, Edzná means the home of the Itzá. Although not nearly as famous as Chichén Itzá, Edzná is extremely impressive and feels nothing short of a great imperial capital.

From the late classic period, Edzná seems to have been in league with the powerful city of Calakmul. The eventual fall of Calakmul to Tikal caused a large power shift in southern Meso-America. As a result, many of the existing dynasties and power structures were toppled and created an opening for groups such as the Itzá. 

Entrance to the main acropolis in Edzná. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Much like Chichén Itzá, Edzná had already been occupied for well over a millennia before the arrival of the Itzá from the south. The city became a powerful regional capital sometime in the 6th century CE but appears to have been abandoned in the 1450s. 

At the entrance to the site, you will find a little museum with several stelae and some interesting information about the site. Much of what is known about Ednzá and its chronology has been extrapolated from the engravings on these stelae.

Stelae museum in Ednzá. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The site covers 25 square kilometers and features dozens of impressive structures including religious temples, administrative buildings, and habitational areas. Although not as dense as archaeological sites more to the south, the vegetation surrounding Edzná is quite beautiful. It is also possible to spot a great many species of birds, as well as monkeys and peccaries — a species of small wild pig endemic to the peninsula. 

Thick jungle surrounding Edzná. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The site is an interesting mix of architectural styles which include Puuc, Peten, and Chenes. The size of the structures really makes the city feel quite grand, particularly in the main quadrant or plaza. 

Remains of a Puuc-style structure just outisde the city core. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The most well famous structure in Edzná — and arguably its most grand — is the fairly self-descriptive Five-Story Temple. In antiquity, the temple was painted bright red, and its crest pierced the canopy and likely served as a marker for travelers. Although it is sometimes referred to as a pyramid, this is not accurate as it is more of a palatial ceremonial complex.

Detail of the Five-Story Temple in Edzná, Campeche. Photo: Luis Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The great temple is flanked on all sides by other large temples and ceremonial platforms which make up the city’s grand acropolis.

Edzná’s great Acropolis. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

On the outside of this Acropolis, the entire area is framed by a large 135-meter elongated platform that spans the core of the site. The structure shows evidence of several large rooms which were likely used for administrative purposes. It is also likely that the structure and its surrounding area served as an important marketplace. 

This enomrous structure is known as the Nohochná or Great House. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Adjacent to the main Acropolis lay another large structure known as the southern temple. This temple is a great example of Teotihuacan-inspired Talud-tablero inspired architecture. It was likely a fairly late addition to the site built sometime in the 6th century. Like most of the largest structures at the site, it would have been painted red and been adorned with stucco figures such as masks representing solar and rain deities. 

Southern temple in Edzná. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Directly next to the southern temple lay one of Edzná’s main ballcourts or Pok ta Pok. Several other ballcourts have been found at the site but have not been restored. 

Edzná’s main ballcourt. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The Temple of the Masks features stucco depictions of the Maya Kinich Ahausolar deity Kinich Ahau.

Mask temple in Edzná. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

These kinds of masks seem to have been fairly typical of most structures at Edzná, but only a handful survive to this day. Many of the masks contain zoomorphic elements, as well as lavish jewelry.

Stucco image of the Maya sun god Kinich Ahau in Edzná. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

If you go

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 (with ID).

There is not much in the way of services at the site other than a bathroom, so make sure to bring some water, sunblock, a hat, and a sturdy pair of comfortable walking shoes. 

Signage to the site is fairly good from Campeche and the Puuc route in Yucatán. Driving to the site is quite easy and many tour companies operating in Campeche offer day trips at competitive prices. During holidays and on long weekends, the site can get busy, so make sure to arrive good and early to get the most out of your visit. 

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