Strategically located in the basin of the mighty Usumacinta River, the Maya city of Pomoná used its influence and power to control large amounts of trade, offer logistical assistance to its allies in times of war, and of course, enrich itself.
Known in Mayan as Pakbul, meaning “the house of copal,” Pomoná was likely settled sometime in the first or second century CE. This timing comes as no surprise as during the time commercial activity along the Usumacinta appears to really have begun to pick up steam to an even higher degree.
However, recent analysis of ancient hieroglyphs found at the site suggests that the true name of Pomoná was actually Pakbul, which epigraphers have translated as “Divine lord of the pipe.”
Several stone-carved stelae and reliefs have been discovered at Pomoná but all have been removed from the site proper to ensure their preservation. Controversially, several of these artifacts have ended up in Europe, including museums in Spain and Switzerland.
It is not clear if Pomoná was founded as an independent city-state or if it was a client or vassal kingdom. But one thing is for sure, the city would become a key player in trade and warfare for centuries to come and play a key role in the “star wars” fought between the mighty cities of Calakmul and Tikal.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Pomoná reached its greatest splendor during the 5th century CE, likely as the result of the wealth it was able to collect from its vanquished foes during a long series of wars and proxy battles.
As a result most of the observable archaeological remains today date to this same era, giving us a glimpse of the ancient city at its height.
But despite its riches, Pomoná is not exceedingly large, opting to keep a relatively compact and defendable size — likely for strategic reasons.
But just because the city was able to extract large amounts of wealth by leveraging its strategic position does not mean they were not involved in agriculture. In fact, the city appears to have been particularly self-sufficient in this respect, having large fields dedicated to the production of corn, beans, squash, and chilies.
Like nearby Comalcalco, Pomoná is a bit of an oddball architecturally. The reason for this is not immediately apparent when simply glancing at the city’s temples. But rather its unique style comes down to the wide variety of materials used in its construction.
People accustomed to the architecture of the Yucatán Peninsula know that carved limestone was the preferred material in this region. However, in the Usumacinta Basin, this material is not as abundant, leading the Maya of the area to utilize several different types of stone, but also clay bricks — though not in quantities as significant as in Comalcalco.
Though not as strong as carved stone, clay bricks are of course much lighter and malleable and allow for the construction of wider arches and hallways, though few examples of these constructions survive in any capacity to this day.
It is interesting to think what could have been possible had the Maya embraced the use of clay bricks in the building of larger complexes, as this lighter material would have perhaps allowed for the construction of even larger internal chambers, capable of sustaining their weight with the assistance of large wooden beams. But in the end, this is just a long-held pet theory by yours truly.
The bulk of monumental construction at Pomoná can be found in the Central Plaza, which is made up of 13 structures divided into six main architectural groups.
It has been suggested that secondary plazas have been struck from the archaeological record due to the construction of the nearby highway to Tenosique. Sadly, this seems to be a fairly common theme for archaeological sites found in Tabasco, given the large amount of infrastructure needed to support the region’s oil industry.
Of these temples, Structure 6 is perhaps the most impressive, with its large single stairway and monumental large but badly damaged stone masks of the sun god Kinich Ahau.
Directly in front of Structure 6, it is possible to view a surviving altar similar to those found at other Maya sites including Tikal and Calakmul.
Like all other ancient Maya cities, the bulk of the population lived a distance away from the main ceremonial center in houses that resemble those seen in the countryside even today.
Unlike most ancient Maya cities, no Mesoamerican ballcourt has been found in Pomoná, as it was likely destroyed in the construction of the nearby highway.
If you go
During my several visits to Pomoná, I have only ever encountered a handful of other visitors. Most people visiting Pomoná start their trip in Tabasco’s state capital Villahermosa, but as already alluded to this region is not often frequented by tourists given its lack of beaches and amenities.
Though it’s possible to rent a car and drive the nearly 200 kilometers of winding roads from Villahermosa, it’s a much better idea to find yourself a local driver to take you, The area is infamous for its erratic weather and mudslides are a problem.
If the idea is to explore the region a little more in-depth, it is a good idea to spend the night in a community such as Emiliano Zapata on the banks of the Usumacinta River. There are a handful of small hotels and motels, nothing too fancy, but not terrible by any means — especially after a long day of exploring ruins. The entrance fee for Pomoná is a great deal at just 36 pesos, not even 2 USD.