Stelae, a Mayan Classic

Stelae, a Mayan Classic

Located in the heart of the jungle of Quintana Roo State, Cobá is an ancient city where the buildings, highways and stones keep thousand year-old secrets of the Mayan world. It is also one of our favorite places that you can visit with your family during your holidays in Cancun or the Riviera Maya. After a nice drive through the archaeological site, take a bike and follow your tour guide along the pathways traced by the Mayan many centuries ago…

Cobá is a long standing city. Archaeologists believe that the first inhabitants established themselves there between 200 and 100 BC, during the Pre-Classic Period (2000 BC-250 AD). The city reached its peak from 200-600 AD through the Classic Period (250-900 AD). In the Post-Classic (900 -1521 AD), Cobá faced a large conflict with the flourishing Chichén Itzá, which eventually came out as the winner. Cobá lost its commercial supremacy but the city was not abandoned, and preserved its symbolic and religious prestige. Structures were still being built into the very late Post-Classic period (1200-1500 AD), so we can say that Cobá has at least 2000 years of history to talk about!

One of the main characteristics of Cobá is the large number of stelae that archaeologists have found among the city’s complexes. Stelae are “free-standing stone slabs carved in low relief that usually depict portraits of rulers, which are accompanied by hieroglyphic texts recording the rulers’ identity and actions”[i]. Along with the Egyptian, Sumerian, Chinese and Greek cultures, the Maya used stelae to record the history of their cities associated with their governor’s life. Some archaeologists have made comparisons between the natural landscape and the structure of the Mayan cities: pyramids representing the sacred mountains, the big providers; stelae replacing the trees.

The Maya believed that the stelae were “an embodiment of the royal self in the sense that it shared some of the divine essence of the ruler”[ii]. Even although rain, wind and time have eroded the stelae in Cobá, it is still easy to identify the shape of the lord or ruler wearing large clothes and headdresses with feathers and carrying the scepter. He is usually standing on the back of two slaves who are smaller than him, in order to show up his majesty.

Stelae were carved by the Maya mostly in the Classic Period (250 to 900 AD) and were part of the political discourse, in which the governor or ruler was worshiped as the Gods messenger. Thanks to the progress made in the deciphering of the Mayan glyphs, it is possible to read 60 to 80% of the stelae that are well preserved not only in Cobá, but in many Classic Mayan cities.

Visiting Cobá on a private tour will allow you and your family to gain a deeper understanding of the Mayan World, and enjoy the ancient pathways while surrounded by the sounds and colors of nature. Come and discover the best places of the Riviera Maya with 4Worlds Expeditions!

[i]   Jessica Joyce Christie (2005). THE STELA AS A CULTURAL SYMBOL IN CLASSIC AND CONTEMPORARY MAYA SOCIETIES. Ancient Mesoamerica, 16, pp 277-289. doi:10.1017/S0956536105050108.

[ii] Ídem.

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