Calakmul: The Maya City of Two Adjacent Pyramids

Calakmul: The Maya City of Two Adjacent Pyramids

Deep within the dense jungles of the Petén Basin lies Calakmul, a vast Maya archaeological site in the Mexican state of Campeche. Situated just 35 kilometers from the Guatemalan border, Calakmul stands as one of the largest and most powerful cities ever uncovered in the Maya lowlands. Its rich history and impressive architecture offer a glimpse into the grandeur of ancient Maya civilization.

The “City of the Two Adjacent Pyramids”

  • Name and Location:
    • The name Calakmul means "City of the Two Adjacent Pyramids," a reference to the twin pyramids that dominate its landscape.
    • In ancient times, the city core was known as Ox Te' Tuun, meaning "Three Stones."
  • Geographical Significance:
    • Located within the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, the site is surrounded by dense tropical forests that have helped preserve its structures.
    • Its strategic position in the Petén Basin region allowed Calakmul to control vast trade networks across the lowlands.
Calakmul: The Maya City of Two Adjacent Pyramids

History and Cultural Importance


  • Calakmul existed for twelve centuries, from around 550 B.C. to 900 A.D.
  • At its peak between 250 and 600 A.D., the city was a dominant power, often rivaling Tikal for supremacy in the Maya world.

Political Power:

  • Calakmul was the seat of the powerful Kaan (“Snake”) dynasty, which controlled much of the Maya lowlands.
  • Through strategic alliances and warfare, Calakmul maintained a complex network of vassal states.

Decline and Abandonment:

  • Like many Maya cities, Calakmul declined in the late Classic period due to political upheaval, environmental factors, and changing trade networks.
  • The site was eventually abandoned around 900 A.D.
Calakmul: The Maya City of Two Adjacent Pyramids

Architectural Highlights

Structure II:

  • One of the largest Maya pyramids, Structure II stands over 45 meters tall.
  • Its broad stairway leads to several temples and palaces at the summit, providing sweeping views of the surrounding jungle.

Other Key Structures:

  • Structure I: The twin pyramid adjacent to Structure II, also used for religious and ceremonial purposes.
  • Acropolis: A complex of interconnected palaces and plazas indicating the city's elite residential areas.
  • Ball Courts: The presence of ball courts reflects the significance of the Mesoamerican ball game in Maya culture.

Hieroglyphic Inscriptions:

  • Numerous stelae and altars are adorned with hieroglyphic inscriptions that chronicle Calakmul's rulers and their achievements.
  • These inscriptions have been instrumental in understanding the city's history and political structure.
Calakmul: The Maya City of Two Adjacent Pyramids

Calakmul's legacy as a powerful and influential Maya city is etched into its towering pyramids, grand plazas, and intricate inscriptions. The "City of the Two Adjacent Pyramids" stands as a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of the ancient Maya civilization. Its strategic alliances, monumental architecture, and vibrant cultural achievements make Calakmul one of the most significant archaeological sites in Mesoamerica.