Edzná | Mexico | Living in Mexico


The Mayan city of Edzná lies about a half-hour drive south of Campeche. It's not often seen by Americans, whose experience with ruins is generally limited to a bus tour out of Cancún to Chichén Itzá when the beach gets boring.

That wasn't fair. But you gotta admit there's an element of truth for those who see archeological sites as theme parks—the same people you see in bumper-to-bumper rafts on the Snake River.

OK. I'll stop now. I promise.

The upside is that Edzná receives few visitors: some Mexican families showing their children something of their heritage, perhaps a scattering of Germans interested in ancient cultures.

The site is huge.


That's Jean standing down there, dwarfed by the ruins. The main pyramid behind her is the Templo de los Cinco Pisos because it has... uh... five floors. Nobody knows what the Mayans called it. Note the lack of crowds. No dueling tour guides like you get at Uxmal.

Another advantage of visiting lesser-known sites is that you're allowed to climb the pyramids. Climbing is prohibited at the popular ruins because it's dangerous, and the law of large numbers ensures that some members of the crowds are gonna fall and get hurt or killed if they were allowed to.


The stairs to the top of the pyramids are steep. In the photo above, I was shooting down at about a 60° angle and even so the individual steps are still obscured by the edge of the floor I was standing on. Each step is maybe 16" high and only 8" wide—much narrower than my shoe is long. Most visitors descended using the "butt-scoot" method. Out of pride, I walked down, but I was terrified.

I wanted to experience this site in awed silence, and I would have except for this man.


In a booming voice, he held forth from the apex, pretending to be a Mayan priest or king. I petulantly endured his ranting, thinking scornful, dark thoughts. As I continued my ascent, I met up with him and we talked. He turned out to be a sweet, cheerful man, proud of his country's history and anxious to explain it all to me as we stood on the narrow steps.

I felt ashamed that once again I had allowed cultural differences to color my opinion of another person. I'm less prejudiced than I used to be, but I still fall into an attitude of superiority from time to time.

From the top of the Templo de los Cinco Pisos you can see the jungle canopy stretching to the horizon as well as the plan of the city of Edzná.


Here, we're looking down on the Templo del Noroeste, so called because it's located to the northeast. (The naming conventions for buildings here aren't exactly inspired, but better than, say, at Palenque, where they have names like Templo XIV, Templo XIX, Templo XXIV...)

Mayans didn't discover the structure we call the Roman Arch. Instead, they used the Corbeled Arch, rendering their interior spaces narrow and dark. I found a great example of one at Edzná.


You can see how the width of the arch is limited by the length of the capstone. A longer stone would break.

This photo contains one other item of note. That's a computer-controlled red/green/blue spotlight in the lower left corner of the image. It's one of about 200 on the site. At times when there are more visitors, they put on a light and sound show after dark, illuminating the ruins in flashing colored lights, playing hokey recorded music, and narrated by a bombastic announcer trying to inject a sense of drama into ancient history. Most pathetic is the flashing of lights to simulate lightning. You could do it just as well yourself with a desk lamp.

Archeological sites as theme parks: most of the ruins now have these shows. They're embarrassing. They're pointless. The gullible (myself included) go to see one of these shows one time only. But I'm never going to bother seeing one of the cheesy things again. I suspect most other people feel that way, too.

But the ruins are best seen in the daytime anyway. The sound and light gear isn't obtrusive then. Nothing modern can diminish the greatness and mystery of these buildings.