80.6 F
Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Nohoch Caucel: the 2,800-year-old Maya megalopolis hiding in Mérida’s northwest

Sign up for the Roundup!

Get news from Yucatán Magazine once a week in your inbox. It's free and you can unsubscribe at any time.

*Your email address is safe with us. We will never share your information with any third party, except to comply with applicable law or valid legal processes or to protect the personal safety of our users or the public.

The remains of the ancient Maya can be found just about everywhere in Yucatán, including within its capital and largest city, Mérida.

Mérida’s most significant sites, including Chen Hó and Ya’axtal, can be easily visited as they sit snugly within municipal parks.

Pyramid in Caucel (not the fraccionamiento/suburb), just a couple of blocks from its central square. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

But Nohoch Caucel is a different beast, covering an area larger than Valladolid, Yucatán’s second-largest city.

Though large archaeological parks like Kabah or Mayapán are certainly “sexier” than modest archaeological relics such as those in Larueles Park, all are important in helping to understand Yucatán’s ancient past. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

If you are wondering why you have never heard of this massive site before, it is because it is not an archaeological site per se, but rather a densely packed section of northwestern Mérida which happens to be home to the largest concentration of prehispanic structures in the city. 

The name Caucel in Yucatec-Maya translates as the place for grinding stone. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The name Nohoch Caucel is also not one you will find in guidebooks, as it was coined (by yours truly) to refer to this area, with Caucel being the name of a village within Mérida’s municipal boundaries, as well as a suburb and the word Nohoch — which translates as large in the Yucatec-Maya language. 

One of the reasons the region of Mérida, now known as Caucel, is likely to have grown so large is its easy access to fresh water through cenotes and artificially constructed wells known as chultunes. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Though not widely accepted (yet) and this area still needs much research, the term is helpful as, when considered in its totality, it contains many of the hallmarks of imposing Maya cities such as a constrained geography, extensive Sac-Bé (Mayan road) networks, as well as ceremonial, residential and administrative complexes. 

Map showing the location of several structures within Nohoch Caucel. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

One of Nohoch Caucel’s most stunning features is the Mesoamerican Ballcourt of Xanila. Amazingly, this ballcourt dates back to the 8th century BCE, making it one of the oldest in the Mesoamerican world.

Aerial shot of the Xanila ballcourt in Ciudad Caucel, Mérida. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht/ Yucatán Magazine

The archaeological complex known as Xaman Susulá also dates to the preclassical period. Research suggests that at its height, the area would have been home to thousands of structures over four distinct construction periods.

Jorge Carlos Rosado Baeza of Historia del Turismo en Yucatán inspects the central marker at Xaniala’s ballcourt. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

One of the few discrete structures still observable today is referred to in the archaeological record as Structure 1729. 

Structure 1729 within Xaman Susula within the larger hypothesized Nohoch Caucel. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

That said, the remains of a handful of other structures, including stone walls and several stone artifacts, can also be seen. 

Stone tools intended for domestic use are plentiful in Xaman Susulá and suggest the site was home to a population of a considerable size. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Just as ancient are the artificial platforms found in Soblonke Park, one of the most undervalued of its kind in the city. 

Soblonke is home to many structures with construction dates that extend back to the 9th century. Given their relatively low elevation, it is widely believed that these monuments were stone foundations on top of which structures made of perishable materials were constructed.

The idea that these great platforms served as foundations for larger structures that no longer exist is backed up by evidence dating from similar periods across much of Mesoamerica. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine 

In the blocks surrounding Soblonque, one can see even more archaeological remains in small open-air parks, including Los Laureles. 

Though the city officially maintains small parks like Alisia, no infrastructure or signage exists to give historical context to visitors. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

In the area, there are also a handful of roundabouts like Glorieta de Jade, where archaeological remains are visible, though they often go unnoticed. This is also the case within several roundabouts all over the city, especially in San Pedro Cholul

Many drivers drive by Glorieta de Jade, but most do not know its ancient status. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Adjacent to a high school in the same area is the site known simply as Dzonot, which in Yucatec Maya translates as chasm, likely after the number of cenotes in the area.  

During my last visit to Dzonot, I spoke with a handful of students from the school who expressed interest in my photographing of the site but mentioned that they had no idea that these were, in fact, of archaeological interest.

Aerial view of structures at Dzonot, right behind Escuela Preparatoria 10. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Another central point of interest within the scope of what we have defined as Nohoch Caucel is the Archaeological region of Kalax.

Though the site is badly damaged, stone tools, fragments of walls, and other architectural features can be made out for those with a keen eye.

The total amount of archaeological remains in the Nohoch Caucel is far too large to cover in a single article. In the future, expect a more complete guide (maybe in print, hint hint) that goes further in depth. 

Mérida’s urban sprawl and construction of haciendas dating back several centuries destroyed much of the architecture in this once thriving ancient center, but thankfully, not all is lost. 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.
- Advertisement -spot_img
Verified by ExactMetrics