Sunday, December 29, 2019

Campeche's Museum of Maya Architecture

The bell over Campeche's sea gate. The sea gate, called La Puerta del Mar, allowed entrance from the long pier where sailing ships once tied up. The bell not only announced the arrival of commercial ships but also served to warn of the approach of pirates or hostile naval forces.

The city of Campeche is the capital of the state of Campeche. It has a number of very fine museums. One of the finest is the Museum of Maya Architecture. It is located in Baluarte Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, one of eight bastions built along the colonial walls to protect the city from pirate raids.

In this posting, I'll first show you a little of the Baluarte. Then we'll look at the museum which is housed within it. The museum focuses on the four pre-hispanic architectural styles found in the state of Campeche. I have illustrated this part with photos I took at various sites during our visit. Next, I'll show some of the museum's stone carvings, statues, and stelae that adorned temples, pyramids, and palaces found around the state of Campeche. I'll end the posting with some of the beautiful grave goods found in Campeche's royal tombs.

Baluarte La Soledad

Detail of a model showing Baluarte La Soledad and the pier. The Baluarte is the triangular structure extending from the wall, next to the pier. In colonial times, the waves of the Gulf of Mexico used to crash against the shoreline just below the walls. Today the shoreline is about 200m (656ft) from La Puerta del Mar and the Baluarte.

There is a long structure shaped like a "P" just behind the Baluarte. It is the old Customs Office, known as El Palacio, which now holds the Cultural Center. El Palacio forms the north side of the Plaza Principal (Main Plaza of Campeche). To the east is the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purisma Concepción. Directly across from El Palacio is a building that was the colonial palace of one of Campeche's leading citizens, but now contains a restaurant and various stores.

View from the Baluarte along the walls toward La Puerta de Mar. Carole strolls along the narrow walkway atop the wall. The seashore is to the right. When Campeche was threatened from the sea, Spanish soldiers were protected as they moved along the walkway from one baluarte or guard post to another. Baluarte La Soledad was the largest of the eight bastions. Its name refers to the solitude of the Virgin Mary on Holy Saturday. She is considered to be the protectress of sailors and ships.

In the 17th century, Campeche was the most important port and commercial center of the Yucatan Peninsula. A particularly important export was palo tinte, (dyestick) which was used to make a dye highly valued in Europe. In addition, Campeche was the entry point for many European goods eagerly sought by the Spanish residents of Yucatan. All this commercial traffic quickly caught the eye of the pirates who infested the Gulf and the Caribbean at that time.

Guard post on the northwest corner of the Baluarte. The guard post is about the size of an old-fashioned telephone booth. It has three gun slits that allow the occupant to fire directly out or to either side along the walls. In addition to several of these guard posts, the roof of the Baluarte contained cannon mounted in embrasures facing the sea.

The Spanish Crown was surprisingly slow to react to the pirate threat. It took 150 years of pirate attacks for the king to authorize the construction of the great walls. The attack which finally got royal attention occurred in 1687. It was led by the famous Dutch pirate Lorencillo, who nearly destroyed the city after occupying it for a month. Ironically, by the time the walls, baluartes, and separate fortresses were completed in the 1720s, the Golden Age of Pirates was nearly over. These old bastions are today used as museums, including a botanical garden, and are swarmed by tourists rather than pirates.

In the next sections, I will focus on the Museum of Maya Architecture that is housed in the Baluate la Soledad. First, I will show the four main architectural styles developed by the ancient Maya in the area that is now the state of Campeche. Next, I'll show some of the statues and stelae that decorated the pyramids, temples, and palaces. The final section will cover some of the grave goods found in royal tombs, including a spectacular jade mask.

Styles of Maya architecture found in Campeche

The roof comb of Edzna's Pyramid of the Five Levels. Roof combs are decorative structures built on top of a pyramid or temple. They are typical features of the Northern Petén style. The Petén region covers Northern Guatemala and the southern Yucatan Peninsula, including parts of Campeche. Roof combs usually supported elaborate stucco designs, sometimes including the faces of gods. 

Pyramids of great height are also typical of this style. The height of the Pyramid of the Five Levels measures 31.5m (103.3ft), from the ground to the top of the roof comb. In addition, the corners of Petén-style structures tend to be sharp-angled, rather than rounded. The Northern Petén style was popular during the Early Classic period between 300-600 AD. In later centuries, Puuc-style columns were added to the bottom level of the pyramid.

The Rio Bec style is exemplified by towers like this one at Dzibilnocac. There is a similar tower on the other end of the long rectangular structure. The twin towers are part of an architectural complex which includes a central pyramid and rooms situated on a long platform between the towers. 

Both towers are built to appear as if they have temples on top. However, they are actually solid with no interior space. Staircases on the front and back of the towers are set at very steep angles, with extremely narrow steps leading up to the simulated temples. Like the temples, the stairs are only ornamental and actually climbing them would be dangerous. Notice how the corners of the tower and temple above are curved rather than straight angled.

The Rio Bec style also features carved stone Chaac masks, representing the Rain God. Such masks are also found in structures of the Chenes style. The Rio Bec style was in use during the Middle Classic era (600-800 AD) and is largely centered in the southern part of the Yucatan Peninsula

El Palacio at Hochob is one of the best examples of Chenes style. This style was popular from 600-800 AD, making it contemporary with Rio Bec style. In fact, the geographic area where Chenes is centered overlaps with the Rio Bec area. This suggests considerable interaction between the city-states favoring the two styles. As previously seen with the Edzna pyramid, structures in areas dominated by one style often contain elements from others. 

In addition to Chaac masks, Chenes features ornate stone carvings with abstract themes. Some of these can be seen above on the facade of El Palacio. Chenes buildings tend to be low, one-story rectangular structures, with decorations around the main entrance simulating the face of a monster. A person entering such a doorway does so as if being swallowed by a gaping mouth. The porch in front of the entrance of El Palacio is lined with large fangs.

This small temple at Xcalumkin has columns typical of the Puuc style. The temple is part of a complex called the Initial Series Group. The name is a reference to the Maya Long Count calendar, which begins on August 13, 3114 BC. All Long Count dates reference this "initial" date. The Initial Series Group was given its name by archeologists when they found Long Count dates carved into lintels supported by the columns. 

Puuc style was in vogue from 600-1000 AD and is concentrated in northeastern Campeche and southern Yucatan state. Xcalumkin was the main focus of development of the Puuc style during the 8th century. Signature elements of the style included entryways with porticos composed of plain columns such as those seen above. Other features of the Puuc style include rounded corners, rows of drum-like stone cylinders, and friezes decorated with reeds, latticework, serpents, and deity sculptures.

Gods and Sacred Symbols

Chaac masks were used extensively in both the Rio Bec and Chenes styles. The masks above are typical both in their appearance and the way in which they were used as architectural decorations. The long, upward-curving nose, square eyes, open mouth displaying fangs, and decorative earplugs are all signature elements of Chaac masks. The ones above were once used to decorate the rounded corners of a temple's facade. 

Chaac, the Rain God, was a Maya deity who was the equivalent of  Tlaloc, the God of Rain revered in central Mexico. Chaac was important because rain was vital to survival in this area. There are no above-ground rivers or lakes in the central and northern regions of the Yucatan Peninsula. In some places, water could be obtained from cenotes (limestone sinkholes), but Campeche has only a few of these. Pre-hispanic Maya in this area depended almost entirely upon seasonal rainfall. To capture it, they carved underground cisterns called chultunes. Into these, they channeled rainwater to create a supply for the dry season.

K'inich Ajaw, the Sun God, stares imperiously down upon the world. K'inich means "sun-eyed", and Ajaw translates as "lord". He is usually represented with large bulbous eyes, hence the name. This carving was recovered from Chunhuhub in northeast Campeche and dates from the Late Classic era (600-900 AD). 

K'inich Ajaw was associated with political power, war, and human sacrifice. This may explain his arrogant stance and intense glare. The feathered wings above the arms are representations of the sun's movement through the sky. Maya kings were thought to become assimilated with the Sun God after their deaths.

Unidentified bust with winged head dress. There was no sign with this sculpture, but the "sun eyes" and the head dress suggest that this is another representation of K'inich Ajaw. Notice the luxuriant handlebar mustache on the upper lip. 

Ruling Elites

An opulently-dressed ruler sits erect, as if listening to entreaties from a subject. His face emerges from the mouth of the monster, possibly a crocodile, which forms his head dress. A face emerging from a monster's mouth is a recurrent symbol in Maya art. The ruler's chest and stomach are covered by an apron adorned with large jade disks and he wears jade bracelets that cover most of his forearms. The figure displays considerable facial hair, including a handlebar mustache and a well-trimmed goatee. This is one of the most beautiful pieces of Maya sculpture that I have yet encountered.

Stela of a Maya figure named Lord Dog. Stelae are upright stones, usually flat on two sides, often containing low-relief carvings of human or animal figures and hieroglyphic symbols. Archeologists can glean important information from a stela's images and glyphs. These reveal details about local history, ruling families, and the dates of events. Stelae are usually found at the base of staircases leading up to temples and pyramids.

The Lord Dog stela was discovered in the ruins of Itzimté, a Maya city in Campeche of the Late Classic period (600-900 AD). A date on the glyph indicates that it commemorates the ending of a tuun or 360-day cycle. This is confirmed by the image of a figure placing incense in a burner. The recurrent cycles of the Maya calendar were immensely important in their ancient society. They were occasions of great ceremony in which a ruler would have played a key role. 

Explanation of the Lord Dog stela. The figure shown is that of someone very high in status. Just in front of his face is the "mat" symbol associated with royalty. His headgear includes the figure of a dog and he wears a nose ornament, large ear spools, and jade bracelets. His right hand is hooked in his belt while he uses his left to drop incense (probably copal) into a burner called a censer. 

The glyphs across the top and along the right side are even more revealing. Moving from left to right on top, the first two show a Long Count date of January 10, 910 AD. No monument with a later date has been found at Itzimté, which was abandoned in the early 900s. 

The third glyph on top translates as Dog, while the one just below it is Ajaw, or Lord. In Maya daily life, dogs served both as pets and as sources of food. In addition, they had symbolic importance. The Maya believed that fire was first brought to humans by a dog and that dogs accompanied the dead into Xibalba (the underworld) to show the way. Dogs were often sacrificed and placed in tombs, apparently for this purpose.

Stela of a ruler carrying a spear. One of important functions of a ruler was to lead his warriors into battle, sometimes personally engaging in combat. Prior to the decoding of Maya hieroglyphics in the 1970s, it was widely believed that warfare was rare in the Maya world. Many believed that the ancient Maya were peaceful stargazers. 

However, once archeologists could finally read the history written on stelae and other monuments, they were shocked to find that the Maya were as blood-thirsty as any other people. In fact, their incessant warfare may have played a role in the decline of the Classic era Maya civilization.

Explanation of the stela with the spear-carrying ruler. The Maya loved to dress up for special occasions and war was one of those. The figure above wears an elaborate head dress which includes masses of feathers and a skull. In addition to the head dress, a feathered cape is draped across his back. The jumble of jewelry around his neck and wrists probably includes jade and shells. His right hand holds a spear while he clutches a small round shield in his left. An elaborate loin-cloth hangs between his legs and his feet are shod with high-backed leather sandals.

This sculpture is typical of those erected to commemorate victories in battle. One of the most important acts of any warrior was to capture enemy warriors, particularly a ruler or noble, and to bring them back alive to the victor's capital. The humiliated prisoners would be displayed, stripped of their finery and bound with ropes. Their usual fate was sacrifice by beheading, sometimes after torture. 

Beyond the simple glory of winning, wars were fought between city-states for control over the smaller cities and settlements that provided resources necessary to maintain the warring states. In addition, some conflicts resulted from internal power struggles between rival lineages. It is believed that most campaigns were waged during seasons when they would not interfere with planting or harvesting.

Other important figures

A ball player kneels, apparently after scoring a spectacular goal. Anyone who has witnessed a soccer match or an American football game will recognize this sort of "end-zone antics". The posture of the player seems to express triumph, as if he were saying, through gesture, "There! That's how it's done!" 

The ball player wears a protective wood and leather shield around his waist. His hair is bound with a leather strap and he is shod with sandals that extend up to protect the back of his calves. Further protection is afforded by the leather gantlet covering his left forearm. A jade bracelet adorns his right wrist.

No doubt the ball game was enjoyed by everyone involved, but it represented far more than a simple athletic contest. It was sometimes used to celebrate war victories, but also to peacefully settle political disputes between city-states, or between rival groups within a city. In addition, the game always carried deep symbolic meanings related to the Maya creation myth and the celestial movement of heavenly bodies.

Statue of rather imposing Maya matron, dressed to impress. Her full-length dress is cut so that it exposes her shoulders and upper chest. She has a stylish hairdo and her ears have been pierced to accommodate large ears pools. A necklace made from large balls of jade extends in a double strand down to the top of her dress. Jade bracelets cover most of her forearms. In her hands, she hold some sort of cloth. She appears to be middle-aged and is certainly of the noble class. 

In addition to their roles in the home and family, Maya noblewomen played important ceremonial roles, as well as in the political marriages which cemented relations between city-states. Beginning in the 7th and 8th centuries AD, women occasionally became rulers. Maya city-states where this occurred included Tikal, one of the greatest of them all. Generally, female rulership occurred when there was no male heir to the throne, or through regency when the male heir was too young to rule.

Stela showing a dwarf dancing at the feet of a king. In addition to the dwarf, this round stela displays a seated ruler, surrounded by his advisors, generals and priests, as wells as musicians, singers, and servants. The scene is typical of a Maya royal court. The dwarf may be there simply for court entertainment or he may be a war prisoner. The stela was found in the ruins of the city of Bakná, in Campeche, and dates to the Late Classic.

Dwarfs are extensively represented in Maya art. They were believed to possess magical powers and were often given honored places in the households and courts of rulers, priests and high nobles. They are often portrayed in statues and in ceremonies of a mythological nature. They are often associated with emblems of political power. Oddly, very few dwarf remains have ever been found in pre-hispanic archeological sites.

Elite burials and their grave goods

The Jade Mask of Calakmul is considered the most beautiful of all Maya masks. This was the funerary mask of Yuknoom Yich'aak K'ahk (Jaguar Claw), a ruler of Calakmul who lived from 649 to approximately 700 AD. Calakmul was the great rival of Tikal, in a confrontation that lasted for centuries. Yuknoom Yich'aak K'ahk was katoomte (overlord) of the Kaan (Snake) Dynasty and Calakmul's last great warrior king. Calakmul is located deep in the vast Petén jungles southern Campeche. The mask was discovered in the king's tomb in 1984.

This jade mask incorporates many important Maya symbols. The circular ear spools are in the shape of the four-petal flower, which represents the four cardinal directions and, as such, the structure of the world. The ability of flowers to inhale and exhale moisture symbolizes the sacred "breath of life". Under the mask's chin are the extended wings of a butterfly, which represents the soul of the deceased monarch. Butterflies also represent Venus, the Morning and Evening Star, a symbol of rebirth and regeneration and the cycle of life. 

The arch at the top of the head dress represents the Witz, or Sacred Mountain. Within the Witz is a Sacred Cave where human life was born from three grains of corn. The monarch's tomb itself represents the cave, while the pyramid within which it is located represents the Witz. Just under the arch at the top of the mask are two sprouts of maiz (corn). Corn was not only the origin of human life but the basis of its subsistence. After death, the king becomes a grain of corn which sprouts into the Maiz God. The corn then represents the continuity of human existence.

A burial costume fit for a king. The jewelry shown in the model above was recovered from the remains of an individual of the highest status. Royal tombs have often been found inside pyramids, either within the staircases leading up to temples or under the floor of the temples themselves. 

One of the most famous Maya burials was that of K'inich Janaab' Pakal, also known as the Pakal the Great of Palenque. He was buried at ground level, after which a large pyramid was built over the spot. The royal tomb was only discovered when an archeologist lifted up a stone panel in the floor of the temple at the pyramid's top and found a staircase leading downward. 

Excavation took a long time, but when the rubble was finally cleared from the passage, the archeological team found a huge sarcophagus at the bottom. Its great stone lid was covered with exquisite carvings. The remains of Pakal lay inside. A jade mask covered his face, while the rest of his body was adorned with jade ear spools, necklaces, bracelets and rings similar to those shown in the display above.

Containers used for grave offerings. These containers were found in the same tomb as the jewelry in the previous photograph. Analysis of the containers revealed traces of burned soil, seeds, shells, stingray spines, and hematite (ferric oxide). All of these are typical of the materials used in Maya funeral rites. In royal burials, hematite would be combined with cinnabar to form a paste that was smeared over the body as a kind of shroud. Stingray spines were used in auto-sacrifice, a practice where an individual punctures his/her own flesh, sometimes to produce blood for offerings or a trance produced by the pain.

This completes my posting on Campeche's Museum of Maya Architecture. I hope you have enjoyed it and that, if so, you will leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below. If you leave a question, please include your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim