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Izamal’s Pre- and Post-Columbian Wonders

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Izamal is a small city and you don’t need a lot of time to familiarize yourself with it, but you will need sturdy legs. Both of its main sights, the ancient Maya pyramid Kinich Kakmó and the somewhat-less-ancient Convent of San Antonio de Padua, involve a lot of stairs and climbing.

Izamal Convent

Kinich Kakmó is just one of the many pyramids which define the horizon of Izamal, but it’s by far the biggest. From the ground, it doesn’t look so intimidating, but this pile of rocks and grass just keeps going up, up, up until you can see well over the jungle which surrounds the city. Dedicated to the Sun God, the pyramid was a place of pilgrimage and worship, and was the nexus of the Maya city.

Just a couple blocks away is the Convento de San Antonio de Padua, erected by none other than the despicable Fray Diego de Landa, the Catholic crazy-man who perpetrated the auto-da-fe in Maní and destroyed the bulk of Mayan literature in one fell swoop. In Izamal, he cast his ruinous gaze upon the Maya acropolis, ordering it razed for the placement of a new Jesuit convent.

Izamal Convent
Note: This isn’t the whole pyramid, just the top section of it

It didn’t take long after the construction of the convent for a miracle to occur in Izamal. (Actually, let’s put that in quotes. A “miracle”.) During a trip to Guatemala, De Landa had picked up a statue of the Virgin, which he erected in the Convento de San Antonio de Padua. The jealous citizens of nearby Valladolid decided that the Virgin would look better in their city, and sent a crew to steal it. But on their way out of Izamal, just as they were passing under the city gate, the statue became ponderously heavy, and could not be lifted even by the combined strength of ten men.

It was a miracle! And a pretty trivial one, if you ask me. I mean, this is 1560 or something and there are thousands of impoverished Maya suffering under the boot of Spanish oppression. But God decides to make a statue heavy, so that one city’s gilded riches can’t be brought to another? It’s all about priorities, I suppose, and anyway it was enough to convince Pope John Paul II, who traveled to Izamal in 1993 to officially bless the miraculous Virgin.

After climbing the steps that lead to the convent, and hiking to the top of Kinich Kakmó, you’ll probably have had enough walking. Luckily, a fleet of finely outfitted horse wait in the plaza to take visitors on a carriage tour of Izamal, no exercise required. We didn’t have time for this, but it’s surprisingly affordable and perhaps the best way to see the town.

Locations on our Map: Kinich Kakmó | Convento de San Antonio de Padua

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February 2, 2014 at 10:03 pm Comments (0)

Izamal – The Yellow City

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One of the most important cities in the Yucatán long before the arrival of the Spanish, Izamal is still among its most beautiful. Called the Yellow City for the monochrome color scheme of its buildings, the City of Hills for the ancient pyramids which give shape to the land around it, and the City of Three Cultures for its harmonic balance of pre-Colombian, colonial and modern influence, Izamal ranks as perhaps the essential day trip from Mérida.

Izamal

Izamal was one of the first cities to be established in the northern part of the peninsula, founded sometime around 750 BC. Its connection to the sun god Kinich Ahau made it a place of pilgrimage and it was among the region’s most powerful cities for nearly two millennia, until the ascension of Chichén Itzá.

We spent a couple days in Izamal, sleeping at the Santo Domingo, a former hacienda outside the town center which had recently been converted into a hotel. With large rooms spread across the grounds, an inviting pool and excellent home-cooked breakfasts, this was a lucky find.

All of Izamal’s buildings, from the convent and the government palaces to the humblest corner shop, share the same deep shade of yellow, closer to ochre, and the effect is marvelous, particularly in the low light of the late afternoon. Although I’m not sure why or when they decided on this shade, the coloring makes the city feel unified. This was easily one of the most picturesque places we visited while in the Yucatán, and it’s readily apparent why Mexico honored it as one of the country’s first Pueblos Mágicos.

Location on our Map

Yucatan Souvenirs

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February 2, 2014 at 4:14 pm Comments (7)
Izamal's Pre- and Post-Columbian Wonders Izamal is a small city and you don't need a lot of time to familiarize yourself with it, but you will need sturdy legs. Both of its main sights, the ancient Maya pyramid Kinich Kakmó and the somewhat-less-ancient Convent of San Antonio de Padua, involve a lot of stairs and climbing.
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