Yaxchilán, a Mayan Paradise

Yaxchilán is a city lost amidst the Lacandona Jungle. Its origin dates from two thousand years ago, when a small village transformed into one of the most powerful cities in the Usumacinta Basin, the largest river in México and the longest in Central America. It reached its greatest splendor from 550 to 900 A.D., during what is known as the Late Classic Period of Maya civilization.

The city of Yaxchilán, founded in the 4th century, became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the Mayan era. The kings of Yaxchilán built temples, pyramids and palaces of great luxury around the great plaza along the Usumacinta coast.

Despite the city’s vast surface extension, the public can only access its Great Plaza, Great Acropolis, Small Acropolis and Southern Acropolis. Many of its constructions still show the lintels displaying its dynasty’s history. It’s a thrill to go up the stairs connecting the Great Plaza to the Great Acropolis, presided by wonderful Building 33, the most superb. The decapitated sculpture of Bird Jaguar IV is outstanding, especially because Yaxchilán reached its physiognomy and consolidated its hegemony under this great governor. A Lacandona legend tells that when the head of Bird Jaguar returns to its site, the world will be devastated by celestial jaguars.

The natural barrier formed by the Usumacinta River protected the city from foreign invasions. However, during the yearly rain season, Yaxchilán was isolated into an island, surrounded on all sides by the river’s powerful overflow. Finding a way to pass over the river throughout the year became an absolute necessity and the Mayas solved this transportation problem during the 7th century by building a 100 meter long hanging bridge over the river. The Mayan bridge of Yaxchilán was the longest in the world, it took almost half a century to construct it until it finally connected the city of Yaxchilán to the northern coast. Its central stretch continued being the longest in the world until a longer one was constructed in Italy in 1377.

This amazing engineering feat remained hidden in the jungle until its ruins were researched and reconstructed by the computer simulation and archeology techniques of James A. O’Kon, published in National Geographic Magazine.

Of difficult access, this site can only be reached by the very few who dare make the trip. There are really only two ways to reach Yaxchilán; one is by the Southern Frontier Highway, from Palenque, followed by a one hour boat ride on the Usumacinta River. The other is by renting a private lightweight aircraft.

Artículo Producido por el Equipo Editorial Explorando México.
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Foto: Kudumomo