For those of you with limited time in Merida, Dzibilchaltun offers a fantastic combination of activities: explore the pre-classic Mayan archaeological site (of which the Temple of the Seven Dolls is the most important), swim in a refreshing sink hole and visit to the local museum. One admission ticket will take care of these 3 venues. Dzibilchaltun is less than 30 minutes by car from downtown Merida. After spending a couple of hours at this site you can continue your day trip to Progreso and spend time at the beach, drive further down the road east towards Telchac Puerto to the salt flats at X’cambo, or on your way back to Merida have a late lunch at hacienda Xcanatun.
In the view of the modern researchers, the ancient builders of Dzibilchaltún may have chosen the site of the city to be as close possible to the coastal salt-producing region (some 22 km away), while still being located on a reasonably fertile and habitable terrain. The region between Dzibilchaltún and the sea coast is less suitable for human habitation, being either mangrove swamps or bare rock.
The site has been continuously occupied for thousands of years, although it has expanded and contracted from mid-sized city to small town more than once in its long history. It is about 30 minutes from Mérida and the famous area (Chicxulub) that supposedly was the site of impact of the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs.
Dzibilchaltún also contains the ruin of a 16th century Spanish church built at the site after the conquest.
This site is distinguished due to its long history, which goes back from the mid Preclassic period to the Postclassic period. Its longevity can be explained, among other things, by its privileged location, 17 km from the coast, next to an area of fertile soils. Dzibilchaltún was a large city with a population of nearly 20,000 inhabitants.
Dzibilchaltun means “place where there is writing on flat rocks”, and that is exactly what visitors will find in this Mayan archaeological zone.
The concentric settlement occupies an area of 16 square kilometers. The first three kilometers correspond to the central part and is characterized by the abundance of monumental constructions, such as the Main Plaza, considered the most important group in the area. The rest of the space is occupied by other architectural groups that become more disperse. Buildings with staggered platforms which do not lead to any chambers are situated towards the end, around the plazas and small A total of 8,400 structures have been recorded
The most famous structure is the Temple Of The Seven Dolls, so named because of seven small effigies found at the site when the temple was discovered under the ruins of a later temple pyramid by archaeologists in the 1950s. On the Spring equinox, the sun rises so that it shines directly through one window of the temple and out the other. This is a similar event to the descending snake of Chichen Itza designed to show the power of the gods. The temple is connected to the rest of the site by a sacbe, or “white road,” so-called because they were originally coated with white limestone, built over stone-and-rubble fill.
- The Temple of the Seven Dolls, considered a temple due to the characteristics of its construction. It has a square base with a central chamber encircled by a corridor. The roof of the central chamber forms a tower which apparently reached above the vaulted part of the building. This structure also shows another feature uncommon in Mayan architecture, it has windows next to two of its four doors. Over the Easter entrance, the inhabitants of the zone built a small altar decorated with painted hieroglyphics; they placed seven figurines, or dolls, on and in front of the altar as offerings, this is the reason the temple takes its name.
- The Structure 38 Group. Heading from the museum of the Maya, you can see the residential area comprised of structures 384, 385, 386 and 38-Sub, one of the eldest vaulted structures in the site. Some archaeologists consider that this group represents a residential area with an area for worship, since large stone “metates” in the shape of square basins were found in some chambers. There is also found a tomb in the centre of the platform.
- The Central Square, located to the south of the residential area. Among others, you can find structure 44, a large palace with three chambers, one of the longest in the Mayan area with 130 m long and 35 entrances.
- The Open Chapel. At the beginning of the Colonial era, an open chapel with barrel vault and sacristy in one, was built in the middle of the Central Square. According to a carved stone found in what was the priest’s house, the chapel was built between 1590 and 1600.
- The Standing Temple. In 1942 this was the only building standing with part of its roof intact, hence the name. It is also known as Structure 57 and it probably dates to the first half of the ninth century. Its architecture has features of the early style with some influence from the transition to the Puuc style. The walls are made of rough cut square stone blocks; the surfaces are covered with a finer layer of plaster than in older buildings, and the door lintels are made of monolithic blocks similar to those in Puuc style buildings. However, the vault is made of overhanging stones, and the base layer of blocks with large tenons.
- The Xlacah Cenote. Xlacah means “Old Town” or “Old People” and this is the name of the cenote at Dzibilchaltun, one of the larger and deeper in Yucatan. Between 1957 and 1959 specialized divers explored the cenote and descended 40 m; the experts say it goes down to this depth at a sharp angle and then levels our horizontally; it is not known where it ends. The divers rescued wood, bone and stone artifacts, as well as fragments of ceramics and slightly some complete pots. This cenote is actually available for swimming.