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Izamal, Yucatàn
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
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Izamal : This is a charming colonial village located 70 km (43miles) from Mérida, on the road to Chichén Itzá. It got the nickname of "ciudad amarilla" because of its yellow-earth and white houses. This village is part of the "magic villages ". It is the oldest village in Yucatán Peninsula. Its name in Mayan language is Itzamatul or "dew coming from the sky". It is an important trade center in the region. Seven Mayan pyramids were built; one of them was used by the Spanish for the construction of the du majestic convent San Antonio de Padua.

monastery of Padua Anthony The Anthony of Padua monastery was built on top of the Popul Chac pyramid, using its stones. It is a true symbol : The most important catholic monastery of New Spain was made from the most important Mayan temple. Fray Diego de Landa and the Franciscan missionaries needed an imposing and majestic monastery in order to impose the Hispanic culture and catholic religion on the Mayan people and to mark the end of one world and the advent of another. You still can see some traces of the Mayans artisans on some stones. By the side, in the church, you can see frescos dating from the sixteenth century.

     Right picture : monastery of Padua Anthony

The convent has the biggest atrium after San Peter’s in the Vatican. Pope John Paul visited it while in Mexico in 1993. Every August 15th, there is the celebration of the Virgin of Izamal. Visitors can have a ride in a horse drawn carriage in a labyrinth of colorful streets, parks and historic places. Fray Diego de Landa (second Bishop of Yucatán in the sixteenth century) seems to be alive and talks about the everyday things of this village proud of its past. By night, experience the show of the welkin lined with the shadows of the pyramids, temples and other big colonial buildings. It feels like you are dreaming !

cemetery of Hoctun Light and Sound « Voice and Magic of Izamal », in the Convent every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:30 PM in Spanish and Maya, with the lighted monastery in the background. It is Fantastic!

Two blocks north from the Zócalo, the Kinich Kakmó pyramid, built to honor Sun God, mainly excavated, is worth the detour. With 195 m (639 feet) wide, it was one of the biggest in the Peninsula.

On the road towards Mérida, stop at the entrance of the village of Hoctún, famous for its strange cemetery with graves painted with floral designs by local artists.

Left picture : cemetery of Hoctun

What does it mean : tentative list in the World Heritage ?

A Tentative List is an inventory of those properties which each State Party intends to consider for nomination during the following years. States Parties are encouraged to submit in their Tentative Lists, properties which they consider to be cultural and/or natural heritage of outstanding universal value and therefore suitable for inscription on the World Heritage List.

Extract of Unesco website :

Izamal is known as the "Hill City" because it has in its urban zone, several archaeological vestiges located on the hill sides. The extension of the remains of pre Hispanic constructions as estimated could occupy an area of 10 kilometers square.

Today city of Izamal was a remarkable site of the ancient Mayan civilization. It was probably the largest large city of plains of the north of Yucatán. The investigators have found and catalogued around 80 pre Hispanic structures within the layout of the city. One of the most important pyramids is the Kinich Kak Moo, that is the third pre-Hispanic structure of greater volume in Mexico and at least two stone roads are known, called sacbeóob (ways) that communicated it with other important settlements.


The dimension of its buildings and the network of roads, constructed between 600 and 800 A.C., are evidence of the political and economic power that Izamal exerted on a vast territory, larger than five thousand kilometers square. Here a particular construction technique was developed, mainly by using megalithic carved blocks, with defined architectonical characteristics like rounded corners, projected moldings and superstructures done with perishable materials.

Of the hegemony of Izamal on an ample region is evidenced by the roads that joined the city with dependent populations - like Kantunil, 18 kilometers to the south, and Aké, 29 kilometers to the west and by the control upon commerce and the production of salt through Xcambó, a port located at the Northern coast of the peninsula.

Five pre-Columbian structures are still visible in Izamal (and from a considerable distance in all directions).The first one is a pyramid dedicated to a solar deity, Kinich Kak Moo, which means macaw of fire, solar face, where worship is rendered to this deity as a source of life, by offering flowers, fruits, animals and aromatic substances. This building is the highest of Yucatan and, by its volume, the third most important of the country. It reaches 35 meters of height. In the base its walls measure 195 meters from east to west and 173 meters from north to south. Upon this base a pyramid of 10 levels exists.

different views of Izamal (Yucatán, Mexico) different views of Izamal (Yucatán, Mexico)  
different views of Izamal (Yucatán, Mexico) different views of Izamal (Yucatán, Mexico)  
different views of Izamal (Yucatán, Mexico) different views of Izamal (Yucatán, Mexico)  

      Photos above : different views of Izamal (Yucatán, Mexico)

Towards the Southeast there is the so called pyramid Itzamatul and, located at the south flank of what used to be an enormous square, there is a structure denominated Ppap Hol Chak, partially destroyed in the 16th century when the Franciscan monastery was constructed upon it.

The southwestern side of the central square is limited by another well-known pyramid Hun Pik Tok, and in the west the public space is closed with the temple of Kabul, where a great stucco large mask of Itzamná god existed, which was drawn in 1840 by Federick Catherwood and published by John Lloyd Stephens.

Other residential constructions that are samples of Izamal's historical development are the Xtul, the Habuc and the Chaltun Has. These great knolls are witnesses of a process of superposition of buildings that lasted several centuries and that originally supported a series of temples and palaces.

In order to determine the religious social, political and administrative importance of pre-Hispanic Izamal, it is convenient to mention that after more than one decade of research works, 163 archaeological structures have been mapped within the urban area of the contemporary city and also thousands of residential units in a series of pre Hispanic communities located in the surroundings have been registered. Also, in the whole region that historically was called Ah Kin Chel, hundreds of sites have been detected that shared the same architectonic characteristics of Izamal. At the present time, there are still little more than 20 structures left that all together make of Izamal, archaeologically spoken a first rank site for the country.

After the conquest of Yucatán in the 16th century, the Spaniards demanded the foundation and construction of a city, which began upon the existing Mayan city. Due to the presence of two enormous structures, it was decided to build a small Christian temple on the greater pyramid and a great Franciscan convent upon the Acropolis. This convent received the name of San Antonio de Padua.

The construction of the convent began in 1553 by fray Diego de Landa. Given the dimensions of the pyramid, the land of the set of the church and the caretaker's office of the convent, chapel and vestibule, occupy 14 thousand 678 square meters. The church is found in the center with its facade to the west. The temple and caretaker's office were finished in 1554. The architect of this last part was fray Juan de Mérida. The work of the convent concluded in 1561, being guardian fray Francisco de la Torre.

The church has a barrel vault and tracery, some windows of Moorish arcs and flying buttresses in the apse that give it an excellent aspect. It conserves the title of the Purísima Concepción (the Purest Conception). It is a single ship of 51,90 meters in length. In the central part the two lateral doors communicate to the left with the convent and the right with a common courtyard and the chapel of the Third Order.

To the north of the church the convent was built, to the east the orchard and the cemetery with his chapel; in the lower part are located, to the south, the temple of the Third Order and, to the west, the great vestibule, whose arcade was finished in 1618.

And so was built what would be the greatest religious center of the Mayan converted to the Catholicism in the Yucatán Peninsula; like in pre-Hispanic time when worship was rendered to Itzamná, Izamal became the destiny of multiple peregrinations that - still today, arrive daily to celebrate patron saints in the diverse chapels of the site.

Also, Izamal has been named "City of the Three Cultures", in reference to the architectonic and cultural fusion of the pre-Columbian, colonial and modern societies in the architectural styles found in its houses and public spaces that have given identity to its inhabitants.

Izamal has been a great center of religious peregrination from immemorial times. For the Mayans of today, Izamal continues being the destiny of their pilgrimages, since the image of the Immaculate Conception of Maria, gained its devotion. The image that presides over the greater altarpiece of the temple of the convent - Our Lady of Izamal - was taken to Izamal from Guatemala by orders of Fray Diego de Landa (the well-known and controversial bishop from Yucatán, author of the "Relation of the things of Yucatán" who lived in Izamal).

In Izamal the Mayan language is spoken, at least, as much as Spanish. As for the language, the rites, the architecture, in this community of sober, white and yellow houses, ancestral customs remain : the crossbred food, the way of dressing, the music... daily routine expressions are the synthesis of a distant past in the time, but as near as the Mayan monuments that rise in the center of the town, between houses of the colonial time (end of extract) :

State map of Yucatán :




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