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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Mayan ruins among the stunning renaissance architecture of Hacienda Yaxcopoil

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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. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
The scope of the history at Yaxcopoil can be dizzying, so don’t be shy to ask locals or hacienda workers for their insights about this amazing place. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Yaxcopoil is best known for its impressive French architecture that more closely resembles something in Versailles than in your typical Yucatecan hacienda. 

Many visitors to Hacienda Yaxcopoil are shocked not only by its size but its seemingly out-of-place architecture. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Though the history of the hacienda itself stretches back to the 17th century, Yaxcopoil’s history stretches much farther back than that ⁠— to the time of the ancient Maya.

The remains of ancient structures have been incorporated into the wall of Hacienda Yaxcopoil to aid in their preservation and keep looters at bay. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

When Europeans first arrived in the area, Yaxcopoil had already been mostly abandoned by the Maya, who had once inhabited the surrounding area as part of the kingdom of Ah Canul, which was itself one of the successor states of the League of Mayapán

This map of ancient Yaxcopoil-Tanmul based on a map displayed in the hacienda’s museum. Graphic: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Ancient Yaxcopoil, which translates as the “place of the large trees,”  was largely dismantled for building materials. However, given the size of the city and the efforts of archaeologists and the hacienda’s owners, a glimpse of Yaxcopoil’s glory days can still be seen today. 

A great many ancient household and cooking tools such as molcajetes and metates, as well as pottery, can be found in the area. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Archaeologists believe that the ceremonial core of Yaxcopoil during antiquity was also known as Tanmul, so when discussing the area in archaeological terms it is usually referred to as Yaxcopoil-Tanmul.

An aerial photograph of Yaxcopoil-Tanmul in the 1970s was taken by the Mexican armed forces. Photo: Courtesy; Colorized by Yucatán Magazine

Because Yaxcopoil is not an archaeological park, the remains of the ancient city can be found spread out across a large area on both sides of the Mérida-Uxmal highway. Several of the pyramids and larger structures in the area today lay inside private land and are not open to tourists. 

The ruins of elite Maya residences on the side of the highway were restored in 2006. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

An analysis of pottery suggests that Yaxcopoil-Tanmul was occupied as early as the 1st century BCE, but its immediate surrounding proves occupation dating back to the pre-classic, as early as the 6th century BCE.

Remains of stucco can be seen near the base of the main structure at Poxilá’s acropolis. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Archaeologists believe that Yaxcopoil-Tanmul sat upon an important trade route that connected the northern Yucatán with the Puuc kingdom of Uxmal further south, much as it still does today.

The Mérida-Uxmal highway bisects an ancient residential complex in what was once Yaxcopoil-Tanmul. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine. 

Given its strategic location, it is likely that Yaxcopoil-Tanmul was at least during a time under the control of Ichcanzijó (the Mayan city located where Mérida’s contemporary Centro is today).

Evidence of the links between ancient Mérida and Yaxcopoil-Tanmul is readily visible in its architecture. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine.

However, Yaxcopoil-Tanmul was also clearly influenced by the nearby city-state of Oxkintok, especially when it comes to sculpture.

Oxkintok-style sculptures found in Yaxcopoil-Tanmul and now on display inside the hacienda. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Several artifacts of this great Mayan city can be seen today in a small, yet beautiful museum hosted inside Hacienda Yaxcopoil. 

The collection inside Hacienda Yaxcopoil’s small but interesting museum features various artifacts found during on-site excavations. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

If you go

Hacienda Yaxcopoil’s striking exterior gate is a popular spot for selfies among tourists and locals. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Unlike other haciendas that only offer glimpses of their treasures to folks paying to spend the night or host special events, hacienda Yaxcopoil opens its doors to visitors interested in history and allows its groundskeepers to offer tours. There is no formal set price for these tours, but gratuities are always appreciated (and expected).

Aerial view of the northern section of Hacienda Yaxcopoil where henequen (also known as Sisal) was processed for export. Photo: Carlos Rsoado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine 

Hacienda Yaxcopoil is roughly 20 miles from downtown Mérida and makes for a fantastic and relaxing stop on the way to explore Mayan sites along the Puuc route. 

Map showing the location of Hacienda Yaxcopoil to the south of Mérida. Photo: Google Maps
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