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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Surrounded by high rises, the ‘ancient Altabrisa’ ruins hide their treasures well

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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.
An ancient structure in the Altabrisa neighborhood is one of many archaeological remains within Mérida’s city limits. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

In Yucatán, it’s common to hear people say things like “you can’t put a shovel in the ground without bringing up old ceramics,” or “there are ancient temples everywhere.”

An aerial view of the area immediately surrounding the Prehispanic ruins found in Altabrisa, Mérida. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Strictly speaking, this is, of course, an exaggeration, but the sentiment is entirely accurate. There really is archaeological evidence of the ancient past just about everywhere if you know where to look. 

Archaeology in Yucatán is often found in what appears to be the most unlikely places. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

This is even true in Mérida, which boasts 20 archaeological sites within its city limits and upwards of 50 archaeological reserves, according to the city government. Some of these sites may not be more than an unrestored mound, but others are quite impressive yet remain virtually unknown to the public. 

One of the least-known of these sites is an architectural cluster of Mayan structures located just behind a pair of gleaming luxury condo towers in the Altabrisa neighborhood. 

A sizeable artificial platform with its own choltun, (well/water reservoir) which likely was the residence of a member of the settlement’s elite. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The site is so obscure that despite having visited and documented hundreds of archaeological sites, it had still eluded me despite the fact that I frequent the area often. 

Even from above, it would be hard to detect ancient structures hiding among the thick vegetation. But in Yucatán, you can often come across great surprises if you know where to look. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The archaeological site in Altabrisa does not seem to have an official designation yet. However, it is evident that the INAH — or at least municipal workers — are well aware of it and have conducted surveys of its structures.

A marking on the southmost structure at the site appears to have been tagged by INAH archaeologists for future reference. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

But any data collected from this site has yet to be published, making it difficult to write about with any real degree of certainty.

The remains of a contemporary path were likely created to help folks make their way to the archaeological remains. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Last June, at the request of a local boy scout troop, there was a one-time guided tour of the archaeological remains at Altabrisa. This fact was not widely publicized. 

Several trees in the area have been marked with blue ribbons, perhaps signaling that they will be cut down to make it easier for visitors to explore the site. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The one bit of information I was able to track down was a statement by the INAH claiming that the archaeological site was likely residential and part of a larger, long-destroyed settlement from the 3rd century BCE.

The architectural remains found in the Altabrisa neighborhood share similarities with other Prehispanic sites dating from the Preclassic period such as Flor de Mayo in the northwest of Mérida. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

As no maps of the site layout have been published, I decided to make some measurements and use geotagging to put together a rough outline of the existing remains. However, much of it is under vegetation and hard to make out. 

This is not a scientific map but rather just a quick-and-dirty attempt to bring some semblance of order to the structure I was able to identify. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The archaeological remains are only observable by pushing through the shrub on Calle 22A, directly behind Country Towers. 

It is impossible to see much of the site from the road, so if you want to see the monuments you will have to make your way in. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The site itself is made up of several artificial platforms. Some feature multiple stairways and the remains of constructions atop their esplanades. In all, I could make out somewhere between 10 and 12 structures, with four of them being considerable size. 

The remains of a niche atop the largest structure at the site in Altabrisa, Mérida, Yucatán. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Likely the site’s largest structure appears rectangular and measures roughly 15 by 20 meters, or 50 by 65 feet. This is a guesstimate, as the vegetation surrounding the structure was thick.

It is exhilarating to come across structures as large and ancient as this in such an unexpected part of Mérida. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

If you go

A couple of sources have reported that there are plans in the works to make the site more accessible to visitors, but no details have been provided.

Making your way through the site may challenge those without good mobility, so be cautious. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

For now, visiting these structures means going into the bush, so long pants, long sleeves, and boots are a necessity. If you decide to visit, make sure not to move anything or disturb the archaeological remains in any way, as this could get you into serious trouble.

Map showing the location of Altabrisa Archaeological Reserve in northern Mèrida. Photo: Google Maps

If you have any additional information about this very interesting spot, drop me a line at carlosrosado@roofcatmedia.com.

Please be conscious that when visiting archaeological sites, especially those that have yet to be restored, it is important to not disturb or move the remains in any way. This robs archaeologists of important contextual information. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
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