Tulum (Mayan word: Tulu'um) is the site of a Pre-Columbian Maya walled city serving as a major port for Cobá. The ruins are located on 12-meter (39 ft) cliffs, along the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula on the Caribbean Sea in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. Tulum was at its height between the 13th-15th centuries and managed to survive about 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico. Old World diseases brought by the Spanish settlers appear to have been the cause of its demise. One of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites, Tulum is today a popular site for tourists.
The Maya site may have been formerly also known by the name Zama, meaning city of Dawn. Tulum stands on a bluff facing east and the Caribbean Sea. Tulúm is also the Yucatan Mayan word for fence or wall (or trench), and the walls surrounding the site allowed the Tulum fort to serve as a defense against invasion. Tulum had access to both land and sea trade routes and which made it an extremely important trade hub, especially for the obsidian trade. From the numerous depictions in murals and other works around the site, Tulum appears to have been an important site for the worship of the Diving or Descending god. Tulum also has some underwater caves where you can go snorkeling and many other attractions. Almost directly east of Tulum are the Cayman Islands, Cuba, and Jamaica
Tulum was first mentioned by Juan Díaz, part of Juan de Grijalva's Spanish expedition of 1518. Juan de Grijalva and his men were the first Europeans to spot Tulum. The first detailed description of the ruins was published by John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood in 1843 in the book Incidents of Travel in Yucatan. Stephens and Catherwood first visited Tulum in the mid-19th century AD. As they arrived from the sea Stephens and Catherwood first saw a tall building that impressed them greatly. This was most likely the great Castillo of the site. They made accurate maps of the site’s wall and other buildings while Catherwood made some stunning sketches of the Castillo, along with others, which would have been as close to a photograph as possible at the time. Stephens and Catherwood also discovered an early classic stele at the site that had an inscribed date of AD 564 that was most likely brought in from a nearby town to be reused.
Work conducted at Tulum continued with that of Sylvanus Morley and George P. Howe beginning in 1913. He worked to restore and open the public beaches. The work was continued by the Carnegie Institution from 1916 to 1922, Samuel Lothrop in 1924 who also mapped the site, Miguel Ángel Fernández in the late 30s and early 40s, William Sanders in 1956, and then later in the 1970s by Arthur G. Miller. Through these investigations done by Sanders and Miller it has been determined that Tulum was occupied during the late Postclassic period around AD 1200. The site continued to be occupied until contact with the Spanish was made in the early 16th century with the site being abandoned completely by the end of the 16th century.
Main temple at Tulum (Catherwood
Tulum has architecture typical of Maya sites on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. This architecture is recognized by a step running around the base of the building which sits on a low substructure. Doorways of this type are usually narrow with columns used as support if the building is big enough. As the walls flare out there are usually two sets of molding near the top. The room usually contains one or two small windows with an altar at the back wall, roofed by either a beam-and-rubble ceiling or being vaulted. This type of architecture resembles that done at the nearby Chichen Itza, just on a much smaller scale.
Tulum was protected on one side by steep sea cliffs and on the landward side by a wall that averaged about three to 5 meters (16 ft) in height. The wall also was about 8 m (26 ft) thick and 400 m (1,300 ft) long on the side parallel to the sea. The part of the wall that ran the width of the site was slightly shorter and only about 170 meters (560 ft) on both sides. This massive wall would have taken an enormous amount of energy and time, which shows how important defense was to the Maya when they constructed the site here. On the southwest and northwest corners there are small structures that have been identified as watch towers, showing again how well defended the city would have been. There are five narrow gateways in the wall with two each on the north and south sides and one on the west. Near the northern side of the wall a small cenote would have provided the city with fresh water. It is this impressive wall that makes Tulum one the most well-known fortified sites of the Maya.
There are three major structures of interest at the Tulum site. El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God are the three most famous buildings. Among some of the more spectacular buildings at the site is the Temple of the Frescoes that included a lower gallery and a smaller second story gallery. Niched figurines of the Maya “diving god” or Venus deity decorate the facade of the temple. This “diving god” is also depicted in the Temple of the Diving God in the central precinct of the site. Above the entrance in the western wall a stucco figure of the “diving god” is still preserved, which the temple gets its name from. A mural can still be seen on the eastern wall that resembles that of a style that originated in highland Mexico called the Mixteca-Puebla style.
Also in the central precinct is the Castillo, which is 7.5 m (25 ft) tall. The Castillo was built on a previous building that was colonnaded and had a beam and mortar roof. The lintels in the upper rooms have serpent motifs carved into them. The Castillo's construction appears to have happened in several phases. A small shrine appears to have been used as a beacon for incoming canoes. This shrine marks a break in the barrier reef that is opposite the site. Here there is a cove and landing beach in a break in the sea cliffs that would have been perfect for trading canoes coming in. This characteristic of the site is probably one of the reasons the Maya founded the city of Tulum here in the first place, for later Tulum would become a very prominent trading port of the Maya during the late Postclassic.
The Tulum archaeological site is relatively compact compared with many other Maya sites in the vicinity, and is one of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites. Its proximity to the modern tourism developments along the Mexican Caribbean coastline and its short distance from Cancun (the "Riviera Maya" surrounding Cancún) has made it the most popular Maya tourist site in the Yucatan. Daily tour buses bring a constant stream of visitors to the site. The Tulum ruins are the third most-visited archaeological site in Mexico, after Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza. It is popular for the picturesque view of the Caribbean and a location just 128 km (80 miles) south of the popular beach resort of Cancún.
A large number of cenotes are located in the Tulum area such as Maya Blue, Naharon, Temple of Doom, Tortuga, Vacaha, Grand Cenote, Abejas, Nohoch Kiin and Carwash cenotes and cave systems.
The tourist destination is now divided into four main areas: the archaeological site, the pueblo (or town), the zona hotelera (or hotel zone) and the biosphere reserve of Sian Ka'an.
In 1995, tourism came to a brief halt as the powerful Hurricane Roxanne pounded into Tulum, packing 115 mph winds. Damage was moderate.