Labna and Xlapac, small but right in the action

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 continue our trek of the Puuc and explore the ancient cities of Labna and Xlapak.

Labna’s arch as illustrated by Frederick Catherwood in 1843
The ancient stone arch of Labna. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Continuing south past Kabah and Sayil, and ever deeper into the jungle, await the ruins of Labna and Xlapak. These two archaeological sites are separated by only four kilometers, and there is good reason to believe they functioned together to produce agricultural goods such as squash and corn, as well as honey. 

Along with squash and beans, corn was the cornerstone of the Maya diet. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The two sites share many architectural features and even have similar meaning names. In Mayan, Labna means old house, while Xlapak is most often translated as old walls. It is unknown what the exact nature of the relationship between Labna and Xlapak was, but given their location, it is likely that both served as vassal kingdoms to the Puuc lords in Uxmal or Kabah. 

One of the largest constructions in Xlapak. Notice how its crest makes it appear larger than it really is. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

It has also been speculated that aside from producing food, these two cities served as forward-operating military bases for Uxmal. They were likely responsible for gathering information and served as the first line of defense against threats emerging from the Chenes kingdoms to the south.

Palace complex in Labna. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Related: See our entire Archaeology Monday archive

Labna, the larger of the two cities, possesses several impressive buildings such as its two-story palace with over 67 rooms and a pyramid adorned with a crested roof (not unlike the one found in Sayil). 

Though the base of the structure remains unrestored, it would have featured at least one large staircase covered in stucco and likely painted in vibrant colors. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

However, the structure which most captivates the imagination is Labna’s arch. Like several other wonders in the Maya world, the arch was illustrated by Frederick Catherwood in the XIX century. Fortunately for us, it still stands looking basically the same as it did back then, with a little help from INAH archaeologists of course. 

Labna’s arch as illustrated by Frederick Catherwood in 1843

Structures in Xlapak are modest in size compared to those of its larger neighbors, but they give us valuable insights into what life must have been like in smaller urban centers.

A sacbe leads from Xlapak to Labna. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

As of mid-February 2021, Labna and Xlapak remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Check back for updates. 

Large iguanas known as Toloks can be spotted all over the Puuc valley, sitting atop large stones to help them keep warm.   Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

As with all archaeological sites in Mexico, it is prohibited to bring in food or drink — other than water. When inside the site, it is obligatory to wear a face mask and be mindful of social distancing. The entrance fee to both sites is 55 pesos Monday through Saturday. And on Sunday admittance is free for Mexican nationals and foreign residents of Yucatán (with ID).

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.