As anyone who follows this column knows, the breadth and depth of Maya ruins in Yucatán state alone is simply too much for any one person to truly grasp.
This of course does not keep one from trying, but the amount of pyramids deep in the jungle, temples in backyards, and structures hiding in plain sight in abandoned lots (even in Mérida) mean that the number of ruins to be found in the state is seemingly boundless.
Even those of us who have been at this for decades are sometimes shocked when we come across a massive site we had no idea existed, especially when it has already been exquisitely restored. How could this be?
This is exactly what happened last week when I visited the community of Poxilá in the municipality of Umán, just to the west of Mérida.
I had been tipped off by an archaeologist friend, Arturo Victoria, that there was an impressive monumental complex within Hacienda Poxilá that we should check out. So we slowly made our way to the hacienda, making several stops to photograph unrestored structures on the side of the road.
When we arrived at the community of Poxilá we noticed the remains of Prehispanic construction topped with a cross across a large Ceiba tree. Knowing that such structures never exist in isolation, I knew there must be more to see.
The week before we began our journey I had attempted to contact the administration of Hacienda Poxilá in order to be granted access to the grounds and told them I would be happy to pay a fee. But after an initial back-and-forth, they began to ignore my messages and phone calls.
Frustratingly we were not let into the hacienda as they argued admission was reserved for pre-paid event guests. Now, of course, any venue has the right to restrict admission, but when Prehispanic architecture is within the property, Mexican law demands accommodation be made.
As we were not allowed entrance it was time to deploy the drone I had brought along to see what I could make out, and boy was I surprised.
A massive Mayan acropolis opened up before us. The acropolis sits upon a 2.5-meter-high artificial platform measuring 300 by 350 feet that supports a series of large temples and huge structures coming in at 265 feet long and 140 feet wide.
The main area of the structure is made up of four levels with a massive central staircase that leads up to a circular topped platform which during antiquity was likely covered by a perishable structure.
It was hard to imagine that an acropolis this size was not open to the public. After doing a little research I was able to learn that the owners of the hacienda and the INAH have been in conflict for some time over the issue of public access to the site and that things have apparently reached a stalemate. Under Mexican law, only INAH is legally entitled to charge admission to heritage sites, though the letter of the law is not always followed.
Several attempts to contact Hacienda Poxilá for their side of the story brought no response.
Aside from its size and beauty, the Poxilá acropolis is also noteworthy for its architecture and antiquity. Given its location, one would expect to find Puuc-style architecture, dating from the 8th century or so. But as it turns out, this impressive complex appears to be much more ancient and exhibits features of Petén-style architecture dating from the middle Preclassic; roughly between the 4th and 6th century B.C.
Because this style of architecture, especially during this time period, is closely associated with sites in northern Guatemala, southern Campeche, and Belize, the question of what exactly it’s doing in northern Yucatán is completely astounding.
The American archaeologist Wyllys Andrews believed that Poxilá was built by migrants moving in the south who were initially drawn to Yucatán seeking trade opportunities.
Archaeological research suggests that Poxila covered an area of approximately 90 acres. Though outside of the acropolis a handful of other structures survive in backyards and in the town’s public spaces, the vast majority have been pillaged out of existence.
Even if you don’t have a drone it is possible to catch a glimpse of the hacienda from the back of the property and peering over the wall. But it sure would be much nice to be able to actually get a closer look in person instead of having to resort to technology.
If you have had the opportunity to personally visit this fascinating site, tell us about your experience at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
Getting to Hacienda Poxilá from downtown Mérida is quite easy as it’s only a 40-minute drive.
But as mentioned earlier, the difficult part is not making your way to the hacienda but rather gaining access to the ruins.
Thank you to the archaeologist Arturo Victoria for his collaboration on this piece.