Sayil – Place Of The Ants

A further 9 kilometres along the Ruta Puuc and you come across the Mayan temple complex of Sayil, with the same dusty carpark, empty of cars and people! Once again, we were the only ones there at this site, so free to roam these wonderous structures at will. 

Sayil is a Classic Maya site, built between 600 and 900 AD, reaching its greatest heights in the 800 and 900’s with an estimated population of around 10,000. The sites along the Ruta Puuc are all of a similar age and share the same Puuc style architecture and the worship of Chaac, the rain, thunder and lightning god. Chaac is often represented holding jade axes and snakes that he uses to throw at the clouds to make rain, assuring the maize harvest and generally maintaining the natural cycle of life. He’s always depicted with reptilian attributes and fish scales, a long curly nose and a protruding upper lip with fangs, though for some unknown reason, the Chaac carvings at Sayil show him with a particularly elephantine trunk. 

Entering the site you’re immediately plunged into the jungle, so the ruins aren’t that apparent at first. There’s a rough rubble stone mound almost wholly consumed by vegetation save for some stone work emerging from the ground. It appears this structure is totally unexcavated. Behind this is a massive temple with intricate stone carvings of Chaac all along a top frieze, with a long curly nose at either corner. For me, this is as close to Indiana Jones as you can get as the temple appears to be half emerging from the jungle – in parts, totally consumed. You can climb over and through these structures, enter the dark rooms (just watch out for bats and native – stingless – bees) and marvel at the precise stonework in the walls. There are large iguanas watching your every move, some of them perched on tree branches, others precariously hanging on to large twisted vines. There’s no sound here other than the wind rattling  seed-pods in the trees, cackling bird calls and the white noise of insects – a truly magical lost city if ever there was. 

The largest structure at Sayil is known as the Great Palace, a monumental 235 foot long three-storey, multi-functional building that has more than 90 rooms comprising residential quarters for the city elite, administrative offices for their far-reaching agricultural trade (as far as Guatemala) and storage areas for grain. A grand stone staircase leads to the second and third floors with galleries lined with ornamental columns, large Chaac masks, intricately carved geometric patterns and a carving of the ‘diving god’ or ‘descending god’, known in ancient Maya as ‘Ah Muzen Cab’, the god of bees and honey. He’s always shown hanging upside down and has only been found at a few sites in the whole Mayan world. 

Astonishing! 

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Bevanlee says:

    An Ant at the Place of the Ants. Almost a homecoming. 🤗 I love the utter quiet, but for birds, on the soundtrack of your Vimeo link. Such wonders you are beholding 😍🌈

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ian says:

    How lucky you are getting to see these great sites without crowds. I’m jealous.

    Liked by 1 person

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