Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is a veritable treasure trove for anyone who has even a slight interest in the history of the Pre-Columbian cultures (the pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents) that once thrived in the Mesoamerican region (central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica).
Whether in Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Cancun or further inland in Valladolid or Merida, any of these popular vacation spots offer the opportunity to get out and discover the ancient Mayan civilization, which once dominated the Peninsula’s vast territory of more than 76,000 square miles.
No more than 30 minutes from the beautiful colonial city of Merida is the small municipality of Acanceh, which in Maya translates variously as “Groan of the Deer”, “Lament of the Deer” or “Agonising Deer”. It is a very small town of approximately 15,000 inhabitants and it boasts a collection of intriguing Mayan ruins, some of which have been excavated, restored and opened to the public.
The first evidence of prehispanic occupation dates back to the late Preclassic period (300 B.C. to 300 A.D.), until the late Postclassic period (1300 to 1450 A.D.); Acanceh did not however reach its peak until the early Classic period (300 to 600 A.D.) when it is consisted of around 400 different structures and covered an area of approximately 3 square miles.
Acanceh’s central pyramid is found right across from the town cathedral, an extremely rare sight as the Spanish conquerors almost always demolished any local structures when subjugating the local population. In fact the original materials were subsequently used to build churches which the conquerors usually constructed on top of the most important Mayan structure of the conquered town or city. Acanceh’s pyramid however was allowed to survive.
The Palace of the Stuccos” (a material commonly used as a sculptural and artistic material in Mayan architecture) contains many elaborate friezes, many rooms and detailed carvings. The architecture of the structures at Acanceh suggest a strong influence from the ancient city of Teotihuacan (close to modern day Mexico City) leading some to believe that Acanceh was possibly a colony of Teotihuacan.
So when next you visit Mexico and are planning your list of things to do in Merida, be sure to include a visit to this beautiful, lesser known site. It is important to contract an experienced tour operator as the local villagers speak mostly Maya, the structures and other attractions are not well marked and no adequate guidebooks exist as yet.